Chaplain Norris Burkes (copy)

Chaplain Norris Burkes. Photo by Wade Spees. June 6, 2014.

This is the time of year when writers will recall their best Christmas ever.

Their stories often include a video of a slobbering puppy leaping from a ribbon-covered box or a marriage proposal, or my favorite, a deployed soldier surprising her family with an early homecoming.

But if you’ve read my column long enough, you’ll know that this columnist seeks to fill the holes of the unexpected. So, today, I recollect my very worst Christmas ever!

I was only 4 years old, but savvy enough to ask my parents why our Charlie Brown Christmas tree was so bare. I didn’t understand why my father, a poor ministerial student, had nothing to place under the tree.

However, I became cautiously optimistic on Christmas Eve when my dad called us one-by-one into his study cubby.

My sister came away with a new doll. My brother followed with a kinetic car, the kind you roll backwards to wind up the energy.

Score! Seeing that kind of haul, my kinetic energy was pushing full throttle.

I approached my dad’s desk and climbed into his loving lap.

“I have something very important to tell you,” he said.

My little eyes reflected with the anticipatory joy of Tiny Tim.

“There is no such thing as Santa Claus,” he said. “We celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, not Santa.”

My eyes blinked with tears. Could it get any worse for a preschooler than that?

Yes, actually, it could.

When I asked about my present, my dad told me that I’d be sharing the kinetic car with my brother.

“Does it get it any sadder?” you ask.

Why, yes it does.

I joined my brother on the kitchen floor where we took turns sending the car careening back and forth like a game of catch.

Twenty minutes into the game, my 5-year-old brother began speculating on how the car mechanism worked.

“Let me take it apart,” my brother begged with screwdriver in hand. I was curious, too, but I would only agree if he promised to restore it to working condition.

He promised.

Ten minutes later, with wheels, chassis and motor spread on the kitchen table, the car was humpty-dumptied.

Saddest, worst, most disappointing Christmas ever, right?

So, why would I write about a Christmas memory worthy of Debbie-downer?

As foul as it was, it still points toward some spiritual takeaways of Christmas.

First, Christmas needn’t be all about materialism, about what we buy or what we consume. It might also be about sacrifice.

My sacrifice fed my brother’s mechanical mind. He explored the workings of the tiny engine, gaining early insights into motion, potential energy and kinetic energy. He may have failed the car restoration business, but he became an electronics repairman and later started his own electronics business.

Second, my worst Christmas inspired me to share what we are given. Christian scripture reminds us, “To whom much is given, much shall be required.”

I didn’t get much, but in sharing it, I perhaps inspired greater generosity. For years to come, my brother modified other gifts into things much more interesting.

One year he rigged a toy tank to burst from a record player box and shoot rubber bands. Another year, he removed the capacitor from an old radio to make an electric shock device capable of repelling the school bullies.

I’ve shared this sad story with my wife many times over the years. So, last week I told her I’d have my best Christmas ever if she’d give me a miniature Schnauzer puppy for Christmas.

At first she said no, but after reading this column, she assured me that our neighbor would likely “share” his new puppy.

So much for the worst Christmas ever.

Contact Norris Burkes at comment@thechaplain.net or P.O. Box 247 Elk Grove, CA 95759 or voicemail 843-608-9715