yellowribbonOne of my favorite stories has been told many, many ways, and even sung — it just might be a story based in fact.

It’s about a man who had mess of his life, committed a crime and was sent to his prison.  Finally the day of release arrived, and he wanted more than anything to go back home.  But he was ashamed.  He had betrayed those closest to him, he had disgraced and embarrassed his family.  He wasn’t sure if they would take him back.

So he sent home a letter saying, “I want to come home, but I don’t want to embarrass you further, and I don’t want to cause a scene.  I’ll pass through town on the bus, and, you know that old oak tree that sits in the town square, near the station?  Well, if I’m welcome home, just put a little ribbon on one of the branches.  If I see it there, then I’ll know that it’s OK to come home.  No ribbon and I’ll just stay on the bus and move on with my life.”

No doubt you’ve heard the story or the song and you know what happens.  The bus pulled in and the man who had made a mess of his life looked out the window to see what his future would be, if there would be a ribbon tied to one of the branches.  There was not one ribbon, but hundreds.  Every branch of the tree was covered with ribbons so that this man would know: Our arms are open wide.  All is forgiven.  You can come home.

I was talking to some friends once about this song (Tony Orlando & Dawn), how it was the perfect illustration of mercy and forgiveness.  One person said, “The only thing that could make that story better would be if it took place at Christmas.”

I said, “You know what?  It did.”

This is the Christmas story.  This is why Christmas is the best thing ever.  Christmas tells us that God has covered every branch of the tree with hundreds of hundreds of ribbons, to let us know that his mercy is still good, that his forgiveness is still strong, and that his love will never end.

God loves.  God gives.  God forgives.  That’s why Christmas is the best thing ever.