By Daniel Schantz
“Don’t bother to buy a Christmas tree,” my wife, Sharon, said as she peered out the window at our neighbors who were struggling to get an oversized tree through their front door. “No one is coming to see us this season, so what’s the point?” She sounded disappointed.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I agreed. “I think this is going to be the Christmas that wasn’t.”
This Christmas would be a special trial for me—my first since I retired after training student-leaders for world service for 43 years. All that time, I “lived” in the classrooms of Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri.
Students inspired me with their dreams, amazed me with their creativity, humbled me by their absolute faith in God, surprised me with notes and comments, and made me laugh a thousand times a day.
At Christmastime, students often gave me small, thoughtful gifts, and every Christmas I would invite some classes to our home for refreshments and fellowship. Sharon would make her big, sticky pecan rolls, served with wassail and hot chocolate.
Other groups would drop by unannounced to sing carols on our front porch.
“We wish you a merry Christmas, Schantzy, we wish you a merry Christmas. . . .”
But no more.
This year it would be just the two of us, sitting in an empty living room, feeling sorry for ourselves.
One afternoon I trudged up to the attic where I caught sight of an old wooden box—a treasure chest I had made to illustrate the theme of the book on the first day of Proverbs class: “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her” (Proverbs 8:11, New Kings James Version).
It was filled with plastic and glass jewelry purchased from craft stores and thrift shops: rubies and sapphires, emeralds and diamonds, opals and agates . . . pearl necklaces and bracelets, and big, gaudy diamond rings. It all looked amazingly real.
I fingered the jewels and thought how my students loved this chest of “precious stones”! A girl would drape the pearls around her neck, slip the garish diamond ring on to her finger, and squeal with joy. “Whoa, look at this rock! Am I the Queen of Sheba, or what?”
After lunch I was helping Sharon with the dishes and staring out the window at a dappled willow tree I had planted last summer some 15 feet away. It looked like a small palm tree, but the pink and green leaves had now fallen, leaving the golden branches quivering in a cold breeze. <<Megan, if you need to cut anything for space, you can cut the previous sentence.>>
As I pondered the tree, I had an idea. When Sharon left the house for some afternoon shopping, I opened the treasure chest and pored over the jewels. Most of the plastic ones had a small hole in one end, for stringing into a necklace. I attached a long piece of fishing line to each jewel, then tied them to the limbs of the willow tree, until the tree shimmered with light from the afternoon sun: sparkles of red and green, blue and amber, and dazzling white.
When Sharon returned home, she fell in love with the tree. “It’s better than any pine tree we ever had,” she said. Every afternoon the sun shined through the gemstones and projected dancing points of light on her kitchen walls. At night, the headlights of passing cars made the jewels wink on and off, like stars.
One evening while watching the colored light show, I thought of the song “Jewels” we had sung on Sunday evenings at church:
When He cometh, when He cometh, to make up His jewels . . . his loved and his own . . . like the stars of the morning . . . little children, little children . . . are the jewels, precious jewels . . . bright gems for His crown.
I said to myself, “My students are my jewels, my children. They are no longer in my daily world, but wherever they are, they are a part of me, and I am a part of them.”
Then I thought of all the Christian colleges, and all of the students being trained to serve in churches, missions, children’s homes, and schools. I thought of the teachers and staff quietly transforming uncut jewels into valuable gemstones who will reflect the glory of God into the dark corners of the world. And I recalled Daniel’s words, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3, NKJV).
I no longer felt alone. My work did not end when I retired. My students are busy training others.
Merry Christmas to all those who are training leaders for Christian service.
Daniel Schantz is a professor emeritus of Central Christian College of the Bible, Moberly, Missouri.