Dec22ThuDecember 22, 2016
A hockey coach on his way home for Christmas, boarded a crowded bus in Montreal. He sat next to a young man, Jack, who was in his late teens. After introducing himself, Coach commented how excited he was to be going home for Christmas. Jack merely grunted. Sensing that his fellow-traveler was troubled, Coach reached out to him. His questions however, were met with mumbled responses.
A few hours passed. Noticing that his traveling companion was wearing a worn and dirty hockey jacket, Coach asked about his team. This time he heard back but not as anticipated. Jack became very emotional. Between sobs Coach gathered that the teen-aged hockey player felt that he didn’t deserve to go home to celebrate with his family.
Now with tears peeking through the corners of his eyes, Jack told Coach his story. He talked about growing up with an older brother who had been the clear favorite in the family. The two brothers were constantly at each other’s throats as they argued and fought. The troubled hockey player explained how he had become more and more upset with his parents and extremely bitter towards his older brother. He told how finally, he could take it no longer. He had to get out of his house and away from his family. He pleaded with his dad to not only allow him to leave home but to give him all the money that he had sacrificially saved up for his college education. His dad was devastated and broken hearted. He mulled things over in his mind for several weeks but eventually decided he would go along with his younger son’s request. The day his son left home was charged with emotion...the saddest of his father’s life. Having to say good bye to his dear son and send him away with thousands of dollars almost killed the dear man.
On the other hand, Jack was excited as he hit the lively city of Montreal looking for adventure. He had a pile of money. Since hockey had been part of his life, he decided to try-out with a local junior team. He was pumped to make the team. Things went very well for the first few months. Playing on the highest producing line in the league, he scored a bunch of goals, got along well with his teammates and shared an apartment with some of them. He was on top of the world as he partied hard…made many friends and spent lots of money.
Unfortunately, the fast life eventually caught up to him. His hockey began to go downhill. He soon ran out of money and his many friends ran out on him. And then, the worst news, his coach told him he no longer wanted him on his team because of the negative influence he was having on the other players.
Jack whimpered on: “I had foolishly spent all of the cash; my so-called friends disappeared; teammates kicked me out of the apartment; I had no place to live and couldn’t find a job. Homeless, helpless and hopeless I found myself begging for money and food and sleeping in alleys, on park benches or in metro stations. I had hit rock bottom. Really, I didn’t want to live. I was still too proud and ashamed to call home. I knew my family wouldn’t want me anyway. Things kept getting worse. I had to do something. Finally, out of total desperation, I swallowed my pride and forced myself to write a letter to my parents. I told them how sorry I was and that I wanted to come home. I informed them that I would be on this bus and if they wanted me I would get off at the terminal in our town, if not, I would just keep on going.”
“How will you know?” inquired Coach. “Our house is next to this highway. I asked my dad to turn on a light on our outdoor rink if he wanted me to come home.”
Jack grew increasingly anxious as the bus got closer. He was sobbing uncontrollably and afraid to look. Coach assured him, that he would be his eyes. With the snow coming down hard, Coach strained to see the rink. There was no need to worry. The outdoor arena was lit up like the Bell Centre for a Canadiens’ game. There were hundreds of lights stretched back and forth across the playing surface. Coach and player were overwhelmed with joy. The message was brighter than the noon day sun, Welcome Home Jack.
All day, Jack’s father had waited at the terminal, carefully scrutinizing every passenger on every bus. With each passing hour he grew more concerned. When his son finally stepped off his bus, his dad ran and threw his arms around him...Tears of love and joy streamed down their faces. They hugged and hugged for it seemed an eternity, each afraid to let go. They arrived home to a large party of family and friends. Jack’s dear mother had prepared his favorite meal. The celebrations went on for hours. It was so good to be home.
Jesus concluded the story of the prodigal with these words:
“And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son and embraced him….we must celebrate with a feast for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he was found.” (Luke 15)
God’s message this Christmas is one of love and forgiveness. The cross is His sign that our sins can never outdo His great love and compassion for us. Come home to your loving heavenly Father. He is waiting with arms wide open to welcome you.