For some of us, Christmas means cooking family favorites that make the season special. We deep six counting calories and fat content. We fold in real butter, sugar, and vanilla. We chop nuts and mash spuds. It can mean hours in the kitchen, aching feet, and tense attempts to make everything come out hot at the same time. As I sort recipes and make my shopping list, part of me eagerly anticipates the scrumptious smells that will soon emanate from my oven. But another part of me needs to hear The Keeper of the Spring story once again. The late Peter Marshall, chaplain of the United States Senate, told this story to weary civil servants to boost their energy and give them the stamina they would need to serve well. Here's his story:
The Keeper of the Spring was a quiet forest dweller who lived high above an Austrian village in the Alps. The old gentle man had been hired many years earlier by a young town council to clear away the debris from the pools of water that fed the lovely spring flowing through their town. With faithful, silent regularity he patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches, and wiped away the silt from the fresh flow of water. Soon the village became a popular tourist attraction. Graceful swans floated along the crystal clear spring, farmlands were naturally irrigated, and the view from restaurants was picturesque.
Years passed. One evening the town council met for its semi-annual meeting. As they reviewed the budget, one man's eye caught the salary figure paid the obscure keeper of the spring. He questioned: "Who is this old man? Why do we keep him on year after year? So, they dispensed with the old man's services. For several weeks nothing changed. But one afternoon someone noticed a slight yellowish tint in the spring. A couple days later the water turned dark. Within a week, a slimy film covered much of the water which wreaked with a foul odor. Millwheels moved slower, and some finally ground to a halt. Swans left as did the tourists. Clammy fingers of disease and sickness reached deeply into the village.
Embarrassed, the council called a special meeting. Realizing their gross error in judgment, they hired back the old keeper of the spring . . . and within a few weeks, the crystal clear river began to flow again. What the keeper of the spring meant to the village, Christmas cooks mean to families everywhere.
Your hard work, creativity, and energy set the ethos for family togetherness–and those times together create experiential tapestries that future grandparents tell their grandchildren. They are the meaningful building blocks of life that matter. Extinguish perfection because it only exists in magazines. Expect irritation as families usually generate some tension and misunderstanding to one degree or another. Pray that it's minimal and do your best not to add to it. The gravy may be lumpy and the pie may be store bought–some of us work outside the home, you know. Nevertheless memories upon memories upon memories, however imperfect, are the stuff that strengthen us all as we go back into daily life with more love, hope, and encouragement. And if you make the centerpiece of your table the real reason for the season–the glorious birth of our Savior and Lord–well, you'll feed them with the spiritual food that will sustain them even more than your family's favorites dishes.
Even if you don't always feel appreciated for your efforts, remember that Someone sees and rejoices. Remember Jesus' words in Luke 22:25-27: The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? But I am among you as one who serves.
Be like Jesus. Be like the One who serves.