The Gold And Ivory Tablecloth
At Christmas time men and women everywhere gather in their churches to
wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. But the story
I like best to recall was not a miracle --not exactly. It happened to a
pastor who was very young. His church was very old. Once, long ago, it
had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit, prayed before its
altar. Rich and poor alike had worshipped there and built it beautifully.
Now the good days had passed from the section of town where it stood. But
the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt
that with paint, hammer, and faith they could get it in shape. Together
they went to work.
But late in December a severe storm whipped through the river valley, and
the worst blow fell on the little church -- a huge chunk of rain-soaked
plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully
thee pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn't hide the
ragged hole. The pastor looked at it and had to remind himself quickly,
"Thy will be done!" But his wife wept, "Christmas is only two days away!"
That afternoon the dispirited couple attended the auction held for the
benefit of a youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out of its
folds a handsome gold and ivory lace tablecloth. It was a magnificent
item, nearly 15 feet long. but it, too, dated from a long vanished era.
Who, today, had any use for such a thing? There were a few halfhearted
bids. Then the pastor was seized with what he thought was a great idea.
He bid it in for $6.50.
He carried the cloth back to the church and tacked it up on the wall behind
the altar. It completely hid the hole! And the extraordinary beauty of
its shimmering handwork cast a fine, holiday glow over the chancel. It was
a great triumph. Happily he went back to preparing his Christmas sermon.
Just before noon on the day of Christmas Eve, as the pastor was opening the
church, he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. "The bus
won't be here for 40 minutes!" he called, and invited her into the church
to get warm. She told him that she had come from the city that morning to
be interviewed for a job as governess to the children of one of the wealthy
families in town but she had been turned down. A war refugee, her English
The woman sat down in a pew and chafed her hands and rested. After a while
she dropped her head and prayed. She looked up as the pastor began to
adjust the great gold and ivory cloth across the hole. She rose suddenly
and walked up the steps of the chancel. She looked at the tablecloth. The
pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage, but she
didn't seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth and rubbed it
between her fingers. "It is mine!" she said. "It is my banquet cloth!" She
lifted up a corner and showed the surprised pastor that there were initials
monogrammed on it. "My husband had the cloth made especially for me in
Brussels! There could not be another like it." For the next few minutes
the woman and the pastor talked excitedly together. She explained that she
was Viennese; that she and her husband had opposed the Nazis and decided to
leave the country. They were advised to go separately. Her husband put her
on a train for Switzerland. They planned that he would join her as soon as
he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border. She never
saw him again. Later she heard that he had died in a concentration camp.
"I have always felt that it was my fault -- to leave without him," she
said. "Perhaps these years of wandering have been my punishment!" The
pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the cloth with her. She
refused. Then she went away.
As the church began to fill on Christmas Eve, it was clear that the cloth
was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look
its best by candlelight. After the service, the pastor stood at the
doorway. Many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One
gentle-faced middle-aged man -- he was the local clock-and-watch repairman
-- looked rather puzzled. "It is strange," he said in his soft accent.
"Many years ago my wife -- God rest her -- and I owned such a cloth. In our
home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table" -- and here he smiled -- "only
when the bishop came to dinner."
The pastor suddenly became very excited. He told the jeweler about the
woman who had been in church earlier that day. The startled jeweler
clutched the pastor's arm. "Can it be? Does she live?"
Together the two got in touch with the family who had interviewed her.
Then, in the pastor's car they started for the city. And as Christmas Day
was born, this man and his wife, who had been separated through so many
saddened Yule tides, were reunited.
To all who hear this story, the joyful purpose of the storm that had
knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now quite clear. Of course,
people said it was a miracle, but I think you will agree it was the season
for it! HIS true love seems to find a way.
[ by Howard C. Schade -- from 'Bills-Punch-Line' ]
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