The Mysterious Man
(7:00 Christmas Eve)
Rev. Gary Cox, Wichita, Kansas
University Congregational Church
Every story has to have a few things before we can call it a story. First, it has to be about somebody. In this story, that somebody is a mysterious man. Another thing about a story—something has to happen. I mean, we can have a mysterious man, and that is a good start; but if all that mysterious man does is sit in his underwear eating popcorn and watching television, we won’t have much of a story. No, something has to happen.
And in this story, what happens is this: the mysterious man moves into a huge house at the edge of town with his twenty children. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere: mysterious man; edge of town; twenty children. And I suppose we could have a thousand different stories with a start like that, but this particular story involves the way all the people in town treated the mysterious man’s twenty children.
Okay, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning, to the day the mysterious man and his twenty children first moved into that big house at the edge of town. Everybody in town was wondering who would buy that big old house, and were they ever surprised when they saw truck after truck pull up to the front door. The moving men carried in all the things you would expect to see—a couple of televisions, several beds, dressers, living room furniture, and box after box labeled “kitchen” and “attic” and “basement.”
But what happened next was really strange. Several trucks pulled around to the back yard, and over a period of about three days a couple of dozen people build an amusement park in the back yard of the old house. This was not something anybody was expecting to see. After all, nobody has an amusement park in their back yard! And this was some amusement park. There was a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, a merry-go-round, and at least twenty or thirty other great rides.
Well, as you can imagine, everybody in town got pretty excited. The idea of having an amusement park right there in the neighborhood…well, it didn’t get much better than that. And that’s why what happened next was so, so, well, mysterious. No sooner had they put together that wonderful amusement park than a construction crew arrived at the house and started building a giant wall around the whole back yard! Soon, all the rides, all the flashing lights, all the games…everything was hidden from view.
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It was the next day when the twenty children of the mysterious man started making friends of the other kids in town. And it didn’t take long to notice something a little weird about those children. Half of them—ten of them—were dressed very nice, with the latest fashions; and the other ten were dressed in sloppy, second-hand clothes.
And it gets even weirder. The well-dressed children always seemed to have lots of money. They often went to the movies, and to the soda shop, and most of the kids in town realized real quick that these ten children were the best ones to hang around with, because they often invited their new friends to go along with them to the movies, and even bought them ice cream now and then.
Those other ten children though; they weren’t quite so much fun. In fact, they were almost always broke. They never went to the movies, or to the soda shop, because they never had any money. And when the other kids in town went out to have fun, those ten poor children stayed behind, because they couldn’t afford to pay their own way, and they didn’t want to have to beg from their friends.
And this is the thing that made that man in the house so mysterious. None of the people in town could figure out why some of his children were blessed with so many wonderful things, and why the others didn’t have much at all. And the other really mysterious thing about the man in the house was that he never came out of the house; in fact, not a single person in the whole town had ever laid eyes on him. Some even claimed there was no man in the house—that the children lived there all by themselves, with nobody watching over them at all.
Now, the town all this happened in was a town a lot like Wichita, except it was a lot smaller. All twenty of the mysterious man’s children told the townspeople that the day would come when the mysterious man—their dad—would open his backyard amusement park to the people in town who served him with honor and love.
And I’ll be honest. This confused everybody in town. How could they serve the mysterious man with honor and love when he wouldn’t even show his face? Everybody wanted to visit that amusement park, but sometimes they got a little angry that whenever they asked how to honor and love the mysterious man, his children couldn’t give them a straight answer.
After a while, everybody pretty much stopped thinking about the mysterious man. Lots of people even forgot about the amusement park in his back yard. More and more, people started to think there really was no mysterious man in that old house at the edge of town. But that was okay, because they liked the twenty children. Well, that’s not exactly true. Sure, they liked all twenty of the children, but they really didn’t hang out much with the ten poor ones. When they went to school, most of the time those ten poor children didn’t even have lunch money. And what could you do? You couldn’t hardly sit there beside them while you ate your own lunch, so the best thing to do was to just sort of pretend those poor kids weren’t even there.
And that’s exactly what happened. The ten children who had plenty of money made lots and lots of friends, and they laughed and played together every day; and the ten poor children sort of stayed to themselves, knowing that nobody really wanted them around anyway.
Oh, there were a few exceptions to the rule. One boy—his name was Bobby Baker—actually made friends with one of the poor kids, and most days he even shared his lunch with him. The same for Donna Wilson—she even spent her allowance buying one of her friends a nice dress to wear to school.
I know it sounds like Bobby and Donna were really great kids, but I’ll be honest. A lot of the other kids in town thought they were just plain dumb. When everybody else went to the movie theater, Bobby and Donna would have to stay home, because they’d spent their money helping out the mysterious man’s poorer children.
This went on for several years, and then, one morning in the early days of summer the town awoke to an unmistakable sound: the whirling, roaring, cacophonous sound of an amusement park in full swing.
The walls were gone. And every ride, every game, every calliope was spinning and singing. The townspeople rushed toward the edge of town to see the amazing sight…and then something really strange happened. Everything fell silent. And a voice came from inside the old house, a voice that was gentle, yet strong.
The voice said, “All of you who honored and loved me over the years, come forward to claim your reward. The amusement park is yours to enjoy whenever you want, for as long as you want.”
Of course, nobody came forward. At first a hush fell over the crowd, and then whispers started moving through the group, and soon confusion took over the whole town. “How could we have honored and loved you?” shouted the people. “You never even came out of the house! You never even let us see your face! We didn’t even know if you were real or not! How could we have possibly served you with honor and love?”
The question hung in the air, until silence once again swept over the crowd. And the voice of the mysterious man once again came from the house: “Don’t you know how a father loves his children? Don’t you know that I would give my own life for any one of them, because a father loves his children more than life itself? So you have indeed served me with honor and love when you served my children with honor and love.”
Of course, nobody felt like they deserved to enter the amusement park. Bobby and Donna were told to enter, and they did, but they were almost embarrassed. They both said they didn’t make friends with the mysterious man’s children to earn his approval—they did it because it seemed like the right thing to do.
Most of the other people realized that they had only hung out with the children who had lots of things. And they didn’t hang around with them because they honored them, or loved them. They hung out with them because it helped them get ice cream, and free movies.
Well, that’s pretty much the end of the story. Things got back to normal after a few days, and everybody in town went about their business. But something had changed. Because every time a poor person showed up in town, he would soon have clothes, and food, and most important, friends. And in a few years, Bobby and Donna had lots of company at the amusement park.