By Rev. Rob Gill
Several years ago about this time of the year Johnny Nassar was in the cardiac unit at Methodist Central Hospital in Memphis. He was my friend Beth’s uncle. He was an interesting, elderly Lebanese man. He was from the Delta and had moved to the Southaven area because of his failing health.
I asked his niece Beth if she thought a visit from me and an offer to serve Holy Communion to “Uncle Johnny” might be meaningful. She gave me an affirmative answer.
I told my friend Don Baddour about going to visit Uncle Johnny and he asked if he could come along being a middle-aged Lebanese man himself. He said that he would take Uncle Johnny some pine nuts so he Uncle Johnny could make a favorite Lebanese dish called “kibbe.”
So Don and I made our way on a cold Sunday afternoon to visit Uncle Johnny Nassar. He looked really gaunt and tired when we got there. I don’t know how old he was back then but he was a World War II veteran as I recall. We talked about his health and how some good Lebanese food could put some meat on his bones. Don picked at him about being Beth’s uncle and his “crazy” family. We had some good laughs together. Then I consecrated the communion, and we each partook. What happened next was such a blessing I still get misty eyed when I think of it. Two weeks ago I was in Don’s home and he recalled this scene again and he got misty eyed.
I brought my guitar. After communion I asked Uncle Johnny if a Christmas carol would be a fitting gesture for our time together. He said, “You know I would like that. Do you know O Holy Night?” I told him that it was my favorite. With that I began to strum my guitar and softly began to sing the first verse. As I was singing it became most apparent that this was not going to be a solo. No, Uncle Johnny didn’t join me. But from behind came this deep rich baritone sound. It was Don. Ole “DB” as I called him.
Uncle Johnny grinned when he heard Baddour beginning to really sing out on the chorus, and I shifted in to a harmony. Tears were streaming down Don’s face as we sang together. Folks it was such a holy moment. In that room were three men whose lives if not but for a moment experienced the present of the Holy One. In the cardiac unit that afternoon Christmas was experienced with a depth of soul that when the song was over we sat in silence as the tears dried upon our cheeks. Nurses at the door were weeping and there were smiles aglow. It is a memory of Christmas that will never leave me and one that DB and I will always share.
Don told me that when he was at Ole Miss in the late 1960ss his fraternity had to perform O Holy Night in the song fest which was a tradition for the fraternities and the sororities at the time. He said that the song never left his memory after all these years.
Uncle Johnny is not with us any more but I will always connect O Holy Night with the experience of being with Uncle Johnny and DB. It was in a cardiac unit that our hearts were set on fire by a mysterious glow of the light of the world. Christmas is always on God’s time and often when we least expect it.
I wish for you this season moments when you too experience God in new and wondrous ways in acts of simple kindness. I pray they move you to know God’s love and grace as you prepare HIM room in your life with more passion and desire.
Gill is pastor of Poplar Springs United Methodist Church in Meridian.