A Christmas traveler with no money meets an alcoholic who leads him to the perfect gift.
Nant Cove Christmas
I’ve seven dollars to my name. Considering the price of gas, it’s probably not enough to get me home for Christmas.
A roadside sign reads, “Nant Cove.” The population number on the sign is covered with spray paint, and the word, “growing” written across the bottom. It wasn’t there the last time I went to Aunt Sarah’s house, but ten years is a long time.
Maybe I’m lost. I leave the bypass and pull into a gas station and study my map. The town isn’t listed. It’s bad enough not having any gifts to share at the family gathering. Arriving late to the party would only add to my long list of failures. I’d rather spend Christmas in my car than experience more humiliation.
I decide to save my dollars after getting directions from the store clerk. My Aunt’s house is not far. I know I can count on adding more gas for the return trip from Uncle Abe. He always has a gallon or two stashed inside the cans he keeps on hand.
Leaving the store, I almost trip over a man sitting on the sidewalk holding a sack with a bottle in it.
The man grabs my hand. “Any spare change, mister?”
“None,” I say truthfully, twisting free from his grip. I don’t even have enough to buy gifts this year.
The beggar staggers to his feet and reattaches himself to my arm. “You’ve come to the right place, then. People of Nant Cove never shop for gifts. They always take them.”
I pull away. Besides the strong smell of alcohol on his breath, I’m startled that he seems to have read my thoughts.
“So, are you interested?” He practically dances a jig in front of me, and something sparkles behind his clouded eyes.
The whole proposition irritates me. “How can people just take gifts and not pay? Why would anyone allow such a thing?” I shake my head at the stupidity of the drunk beggar and push past him. I have my troubles, but at least I’m not as messed up as you are.
The man jumps in front of me and blocks my return to my car. For an old man, he acts much more agile than his condition should allow.
He leans in close to my face and holds a dirty finger to his lips. “Shhhhh, You must be careful what you say. The Giver won’t be happy to hear your criticism.”
“Who’s the Giver?
“Come and see.” The man beckons me along with his free hand while keeping the other wrapped tightly around his bottle.
“I don’t have time. I’m late.” Outward firmness belies my inner curiosity.
“Too late to pick out a free gift for your Aunt Sarah?”
“How did you know?”
“I know everyone.”
“But I never said….Besides, she doesn’t live here.”
“No, she doesn’t.” The man looks away, then rubs his eyes and mutters softly. “But she could.”
I decide the old man’s not just drunk. He’s also crazy. However, not having a gift for my aunt, the woman who lovingly cared for me after my parents died, is an embarrassing concern of mine.
“It’s not far,” the beggar man said. “Just at the top of the hill.” He points back behind the store where the roof peak of a large house rises above the trees. Staring intently, I see a steady stream of people coming down the road from the house. Many appear to be carrying gifts.
One group comes down the sidewalk of the gas station. The beggar and I step aside to let them pass.
With familiarity, he calls out his greetings. “Good health, I see, Mary.”
The woman he addresses nods at him and says, “All praise to the Giver.”
“Another day’s food for you, Tommy.”
In response, the man says, “Thanks to the Giver.” He holds up a covered pot and a delicious smell drifts through the crisp air. My stomach rumbles in anticipation of the succulent turkey and trimmings that surely awaits me at my aunt’s house.
Another large cluster of people arrives. They sing an unfamiliar tune. It’s unlike any carol I’d ever heard. As they make their way past us, I see gaily-colored gift bags in each one’s possession.
“Friendly fellowship. They enjoy getting together to receive their gifts from the Giver.” The beggar speaks to me in hushed tones.
I cannot contain my curiosity. “Who’s the Giver? He must be very rich to afford to have others constantly take from him. Won’t he run out?”
My vagabond friend chuckles. “He owns it all.”
“All of what?” I look around to confirm my assessment. The town of Nant Cove is not very big or prosperous looking.
My friend does not answer my question. I turn to see his face and instead see his form moving away.
“Wait. I’m coming. But just for a few minutes.” I hurry to reach him at the end of the sidewalk, but somehow, I’m too slow. He’s reached the road going up the hill, and now his strides are quick. Half way to him, I pause and catch my breath. Inhaling heartily, I look up at the darkening sky and see a single dazzling star shine directly above three pine trees in the front of the house.
At the doors of the majestic house, my beggar friend does not knock but pushes inside as if he owns the place. Hesitantly, I follow his lead, but then, mere inches inside the door, I stop and gasp at what I see.
A treasure trove of gifts of every shape and size sits on a dinner table under a crystal chandelier. Elegantly wrapped gifts are piled all around the room. They are also on every chair, table, and sofa and bed throughout the house. People are choosing gifts all around me.
My beggar friend waves his hand. “Take your pick.”
“How will I know what to pick? I don’t know what’s inside. I want the very best gift for my aunt. She’s done so much for me.”
“If you want the best gift, you’ll not find it here. It’s kept in another place.”
My friend tries to answer my question, but I cannot hear him. The ever-singing gift recipients surround us. The volume of their song steadily grows, and now the words are plain.
“We will sing of your mercy and loving-kindness forever. With our mouth, we will make known your faithfulness from generation to generation.”
“They’re singing to the Giver.” The beggar says in my ear.
When the carolers move on I ask, “Where’s he—the giver?”
“He keeps watch over his most precious gift. It’s in the back. Follow me.”
I’m surprised when we go back outside. He moves toward a barn-like building where light ruptures through every crack and seam illuminating its dilapidated condition. The carolers must have gone there, too, because the sound of their song rings out so loud it rebounds off the nighttime sky.
“Isn’t this a strange place to keep a costly gift?”
My beggar guide turns and looks at me. He seems to have grown taller and almost regal. Under his gaze, I feel peculiar.
Maybe he thinks I’m ungrateful for his help, so I quickly add, “I’m not from here. Perhaps I should just take a gift for my aunt from the house and go on.”
“Didn’t you say you wanted to give her the best gift? It’s here in the barn.”
“I can’t take the Giver’s most precious gift for my aunt. I love her and all, but I know something else will do fine.”
“Will do fine? Will do fine?” My companion throws back his head and laughs. Great belly heaving spasms come over his body. He finally manages some words.
“The Giver wants everyone to take the best gift he has. No one has to “make do.” They simply need to ask.”
“Okay, then. Where is it?”
My jubilant friend pushes open the door. We stand on the threshold behind a throng of singing, white clothed people. A burly man in front of us turns around and then nudges a woman beside him. Soon many people near us are alerted to our presence.
I shrink back, embarrassed to interrupt what is apparently happening on a stage, but the beggar pulls me forward.
“Come and see,” he says.
The crowd parts and some almost seem to be bowing to us.
At the end of the cleared pathway, a woman faces the crowd cradling a baby. A man stands beside her.
Soft singing resumes but then becomes a triumphant chorus again. The beggar shouts in my ear. “There’s the most precious gift of all. The baby born to save us. Tell this to your aunt. There’s no greater gift.”
I memorize each tiny detail. My aunt will hear the story. When I turn to ask which figure is the Giver, I discover that my companion has disappeared. With empty hands but my heart overflowing, I rush out to the road. The beggar is nowhere in sight.
I head back to my car, and there I find the beggar pouring from his bottle into my gas tank.
“Hey! What are you doing? Stop that! You’ll ruin my car.” I pull back his arm, but he twists free. In a flash, he raises the bottle to his lips as if to drink, but then stops and thrusts it out under my nose, offering me a sip. I back away but not before getting a strong whiff of the contents.
It smells like gasoline.
Incredulous, I say, “What? Where did you get this?”
“It’s from the Giver. He filled you up. Go on. See for yourself.”
I turn on the ignition, and the gas gauge swings into place, marking a full tank. Through the frosted window, I see the beggar laugh great rolling laughs and smack his knee. Then to be certain I understand, he tips the bottle into his mouth and drinks.
Incredulous, I roll down my window and call out my thanks.
He just nods and waves and then sits back on the ground, bottle in hand.
As I drove slowly through the town and then onto the highway, I pass another sign.
Something is different.
I hit my brakes and back up just to be sure. The town sign no longer reads, “Nant Cove.” The name on it is “Covenant,” but the population count still says, “growing.”
Do you have the Giver’s best gift? If you do, then you have everything you truly need for this Christmas and the years to come.
Be blessed and have a Merry Christmas!
Ann Clark McFarland
“You have said I have made a covenant with my chosen one. I have sworn to David my servant. Your seed will I establish forever, and I will build up your throne through all generations.” Psalm 89:3-4
“The angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God, Listen! You will become pregnant and will give birth to a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His forefather David.” Luke 1:31-32
Psalm 89 is known as the covenant Psalm. One of God’s covenants was His promise to Abraham. A covenant implies a contract between two parties. God keeps His promise. We are unable to keep ours, so God sent Jesus to complete our broken covenant. God’s extremely costly but free gift to us is Jesus, our gift for the taking.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23