The Unannounced Christmas Visitor

Chapter One

ANYWHERE USA – PRESENT DAY – 3 WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS
“WHO’S THAT MAN?” LYDIA Jensen whispered softly to her husband.
“What man?” John Jensen replied, half-heartedly. His face was glued to his phone screen, thumbs ramming keys, firing
off text messages to whomever. He was too focused, as always, skimming through dozens of unread messages from earlier
in the week to pry his squinty eyes away from his mobile device for even a second.
“That man over there,” Lydia said, pointing in the man’s direction off to her right.
The Jensens were seated in the seventh row of a nearly full church, close to the middle of the assembly. They were the
very same seats they’d occupied the past 17 years since they first started dating.
“And how many times must I remind you that church is never the place to reply back to text messages!” Lydia’s voice
was no louder than a whisper, yet it carried the force of a shout.
John rolled his eyes and continued scrolling. You’re not my mother!
“John?!” Even with his mobile device turned away from her, Lydia could see his phone screen reflecting off of his
eyeglasses.
“Okay, okay, you win,” he barked under his breath. It was loud enough for Lydia’s closest friend at church, Ann Chen,
to hear. The woman of Asian descent pretended not to be listening. Her husband, Jack Chen, would join them after he and
the other deacons collected the offering.
John angrily turned off his phone and stuffed it inside his pants pocket. Glancing up, he noticed the unsightly specimen
his wife was referring to. He was an elderly gentleman, perhaps 80 or 90, hidden beneath an over-sized, worn out, charcoal
gray trench coat that reached all the way down to his ankles. A thick maroon and gray scarf circled his neck. Both ends
draped down the front of his coat. Underneath the wool coat was a light gray hoodie. The hair on his head was long and
wiry just like his beard. Both were silver-gray in color. Both were unkempt.
Walking at a snail’s pace, the old man was being escorted from where he was briefly seated in the front row to the back
of the assembly by two church ushers. One of them, Guillermo Vargas, was a longtime friend of the Jensens.
Dressed in a neatly pressed, olive-colored suit and bright red tie, Vargas towered over the old man. He shook his head
in disgust to everyone with whom he made eye contact, as if he’d just caught a thief and was about to hand him over to the
authorities.
“I don’t know,” John said. “Looks like a vagrant to me. Perhaps he’s here to beg money for booze or drugs.”
“I’ve never seen him before.”
“Probably never see him again after today,” John opined, dismissively.
Though his answers were short and to the point—judgmental even—Lydia was just glad to be communicating with her
husband without arguing for a change. She was even more thankful he was here at all. Lately, Lydia attended church service
alone each Sunday, while their two children, Matthew, age 10, and Grace, age 7, went to Sunday school.
But it wasn’t just church that John seemed totally disinterested in these days. At 42 years of age, life in general had
become mundane, boring even, to the extent that nothing motivated him, including the job he once loved so much.
Overwhelming fatigue and depression had taken his soul hostage.
This downward spiral started roughly seven months ago, mercilessly changing John Jensen from a loving, churchgoing,
devoted husband and father of two, into someone who was increasingly standoffish and argumentative. It was miraculous
when a sourpuss expression didn’t follow him around everywhere he went.
Pushing these troublesome thoughts from her mind, Lydia craned her neck back and focused her attention on the
mysterious-looking elderly man being escorted to the rear of the church, to see what would happen next.
She wasn’t the only one. It seemed half the congregation was doing the same thing; eyes narrowed, heads slanted,
irritated glances displayed on so many faces.
Stopping at one of the back doors, the three men huddled together for a brief exchange of words. After that, the
shriveled up old man took a seat in the last row, causing a family of four to angrily rise from their seats in search of a new
place to sit.
Lydia observed as Guillermo mouthed the words, “Sorry” to them as they passed. The empathetic expression on his
face was no match for the unbridled agitation on the faces glaring back at him.
The two ushers exited through one of the back doors, finally allowing the old man to do what he came here for—
worship his Creator. He dropped his head and prayed, “Yahweh, Jehovah God, change the overall heart of this gathering
place of believers to resemble the heart of Yeshua rather than the unconverted world.”
Lydia’s eyes remained glued on him. She couldn’t help but wonder if his overall appearance was the reason for his
being humiliated the way he was in front of so many. What else could it possibly be? Did he reek of body odor?
From what she could see, he hadn’t been the slightest bit disrespectful to anyone. Aside from his ragged, worn-out
clothing and unkempt appearance, he seemed completely harmless. Yes, it must be because of his appearance.
The back door opened and Guillermo emerged with Betty Rainer. Her left arm was practically woven into the
handsome Latino man’s right arm. Lydia observed as they slowly proceeded down the empty aisle leading to the front of the
assembly.
Betty’s husband, Tom Rainer, followed closely behind smiling brightly, waving enthusiastically for all to see,
determined to shake as many hands and hug as many friends as possible, before reaching his seat in the front row.
As always, Tom and Betty Rainer were impeccably dressed. Both in their 70’s, the still-vibrant successful business
owners were regarded as solid pillars not only in the church, but in the community as a whole. It was no big secret that they
were the top financial contributors to the church. What should have been kept between them and God was no secret at all.
“Welcome back, John,” Tom Rainer said, taking John Jensen’s hand into his own.
“Thanks, Tom,” John replied sheepishly, unable to maintain steady eye contact with him. “Nice to be back. Been busy
lately.”
“Understood,” The look on Tom’s face betrayed his one-word reply. But now wasn’t the time to press the issue. He still
had friends to greet.
The energetic senior gave Lydia Jensen a quick hug and picked up his pace to catch up to Guillermo and his wife.
Upon reaching the front row, the 28-year-old usher with broad muscular shoulders and slicked back, jet-black hair,
gently kissed Betty’s right cheek. The gesture caused pink to surface on her makeup-covered cheeks. Guillermo then
squeezed Tom’s right hand, cupping it with his left hand, before fading to the back of the house of worship.
The moment the Rainers were seated the service promptly began.
“Good morning, church family,” the music leader declared robustly, nodding in the Rainers direction. “Would you
please rise and join us in worshiping our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, through song and praise!”
Everyone rose as one as the twelve-member band quickly roared to life performing the song, Your Grace is Enough.
Hundreds of voices scattered throughout the sanctuary joined together in song, including Pastor Flores and his wife,
Maria, who were seated next to the Rainers.
This being Lydia’s favorite part of the service, the confused wife and mother of two put aside her hurt feelings for the
moment and sang with a voice that was glad.
John Jensen stood alongside his wife, but refrained from singing. Eyes surveying the sanctuary, he felt entirely out of
place being surrounded by what he had gradually come to believe were a bunch of weak-minded people who were too afraid
to govern their lives that they prayed to a God they couldn’t even see, a God John was increasingly unsure even existed.
How could he wholeheartedly accept that God really existed when the messages preached at this place were
diametrically opposed to what he was taught in college two decades ago, from professors whose minds were so much more
advanced than his own? According to them, humanism, or better put, mankind without God, was the only hope humanity
had of realizing their full potential.
Raised in a lukewarm Christian household, it didn’t take long before the four years John spent seeking higher education
started chiseling away at the already shaky spiritual foundation upon which he was raised. The more his intelligence
increased, the more his already weak faith in God decreased. Yet if anyone asked, he unhesitatingly declared that he was a
Christ follower.
“If You do exist,” John whispered, almost sarcastically, “why do I feel completely and utterly empty inside?”
After two more songs were sung one of the associate pastors, a man of Indian descent named Amrit Rushi, read a few
church announcements. After that he said, “Now, let’s all stand and find someone near you. Help make them feel welcome
in the house of the Lord.”
As if on cue, the two-level assembly—capable of holding up to 3,000 people per service—sprang to life like an oversized
honeycomb being invaded by thousands of bees. Only instead of stinging one another, they shook hands and
exchanged hugs.
Normally one to extend greetings for as long as the time would allow, including to those not seated in her row, Lydia
Jensen was more subdued now. Eyes darting left and right, she was more interested in the old man seated in the back of the
church to give anyone else her undivided attention.
Finally, she spotted him standing not too far from his seat, eagerly anticipating being greeted by someone, anyone.
Some smiled and nodded at him, but no one dared shake the man’s hand, let alone embrace him. If anything, they distanced
themselves from him.
The faint smile on his face was one of the saddest Lydia had ever seen before. Though she did not know him, her heart
ached for him.
“Now it’s time to receive the offering,” Amrit Rushi declared, slowly regaining control. “I’ll ask our ushers to get into
place…”
Everyone found their seats. Pastor Rushi prayed, thanking God for the offering they were about to receive. Then the
band started playing, Worthy is the Lamb. Dozens of ushers got busy patrolling their designated areas, handing offering
plates to fellow congregants and collecting them a few moments later.
Lydia placed a check into the plate, passed it on to Ann Chen seated to her left, and resumed her spying on the back of
the church.
From what she could see, the old man appeared to be counting loose change in his right hand. When the offering plate
found its way to him, with a grateful expression on his face, he dumped all of it onto the plate.
Lydia was astounded. He looked honored just to have the privilege of giving back to God. Talk about a cheerful giver!
she thought to herself, unable to mask her growing curiosity.
“How many times must I remind you to mind your own business at church,” John Jensen whispered to his wife, scowl
on his face, striking back for her earlier comment about his checking text messages.
Lydia turned around and stiffened up. She wanted to counter, but thought better of it. Now wasn’t the time and here
certainly wasn’t the place. Besides, she had grown weary of the daily fights with her husband of 13 years, drained really.
Throughout the remainder of the service, Lydia fought strong urges to glance back one more time, but managed to
control herself. Her mind was too crammed with thoughts of her sagging marriage to give the old man her full attention.
Something had to give soon, before the dam burst wide open.
Once that happened, who knew what lay ahead…
Lydia dropped her head and prayed the same prayer she’d prayed for seven straight months. “Please, God, help me! I’m
desperate for my marriage to be fixed. Intervene before it’s too late. I’m open to anything at this point! This I ask in Jesus’
name, Amen!”
With the Christmas season—the season of miracles—fast-approaching, that’s exactly what Lydia Jensen needed; a
miracle from God Almighty Himself.
If her Maker didn’t intervene soon, Lydia feared her marriage would continue to free fall, which, in and of itself, was a
frightening thought to conjure up.
How could it possibly get any worse?

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