My birthday doesn't fall on December 25 th or any special day like that. When I was young I used to envy people who were lucky enough to be born on this unique day, not only because they happened to share their birthday with the Lord Jesus, but also because they had the pleasure of looking forward to getting two sets of presents at the same time. This illusion was shattered however when I discovered from a friend whose cousin happened to be born on that day, that the poor cousin in question often received just one present from each of his aunts, which was a combined Christmas and birthday present.


That may be bad enough, but to my horror I was told that each present consisted of:


1) A record token.


2) Each record token was not enough value to buy an L.P. (nowadays of course it's CDs).


3) Each aunt purchased the token from a different shop, meaning that the poor unfortunate cousin couldn't add the tokens together to buy the said L.P/CD.


Incredibly, one year the Christmas presents all got mixed up and this resulted in the poor unfortunate eight year old boy receiving “Old Spice” aftershave. (Although I'm reliably informed that he declared that this was the best combined birthday and Christmas he'd ever had as it was a heck of an improvement on the record tokens and he actually felt very grown up!)


My own birthday actually takes place about four weeks later, towards the end of January, when the relentless early darkness is just beginning to show signs that it may be about to ease its vice-like grip and a small glimmer of light clings tenaciously to the western sky for as long as it dares, promising a brief sneak preview of lighter days to come. It happens at the time of year when you begin to wonder if it will ever be spring again and as a result, a rare bright and sunny day is to be cherished.


There was no glimpse of the preview to spring on my birthday this year. A gloomy day was promised, right from the moment the rising sun valiantly attempted to penetrate through the gloom. Anyone could see this was going to be no contest, with the massed legions of thick grey rain clouds providing an unbreakable shroud, which almost completely blocked out any amount of wane light that the sun contained in its armoury for an effective counter attack. To make matters worse, I had somehow managed to catch a really bad cold which seemed to like living with me just fine and was showing no signs of wanting to leave.


Happy Birthday Drew!


I was in the uncomfortable situation that a person experiences in the grip of a cold, where they would ideally like to rest in bed, but find that they are unable to sleep and inevitably end up tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable but completely unable to achieve any kind of restful tranquillity. I must confess, I sometimes get angry with the Lord, and this time I was really mad. I asked him why he allows people to suffer misery, not just from something as minor and trivial as a common cold, but more importantly from more serious illnesses as well. You could imagine, he wasn't in my good books that day!


It was now getting past breakfast time and I felt as tired as ever. After having breakfast and taking more aspirins in the forelong hope that they might actually do something to ease the symptoms of my merciless cold, I decided to take refuge, by sitting in the conservatory and reading an adventure book I had bought the week before. The conservatory was an ideal place to go, as it was heated and as a result was cosy and warm. It was also at the back of the house and even in the gloomiest day, it was possible to read quite comfortably with adequate light provided by the windows which went from roof to floor level. It had a cheery feel about it, even in the gloomiest of days and cheering up was something I could badly do with.


I was beginning to finally become engrossed in the book I was reading. What's more, the aspirins that I had taken earlier were at last starting to at least have a miniscule effect in easing my symptoms, when something made me put down my book and look up at the angry clouds which were rushing by outside my cosy comfort zone.


Two balloons, one in a bright vivid yellow and the other in a really brilliant shade of orange were rushing merrily by. For a brief second they stopped and hovered as the wind eased for a second, as if to give me a chance to observe them, then just as abruptly, rapidly resumed their journey, as a gust of wind returned, pushed them higher and higher, then finally blew them out of sight. They looked as if they were being used to celebrate someone else's birthday. They must have somehow got loose and released from their tethers, had blown away destined to end up who knows where.


Maybe they were from some kid's house. Or perhaps even an adult's. I remembered that not so long ago, a lady who lived along the road had celebrated her fiftieth birthday and some of her “friends” had put up a large board against the hedge at the end of the street. This board announced the news in huge white letters to everyone who was driving or walking by and as it was on the main road, this would amount to hundreds. The placard had contained balloons just like this and must have embarrassed the poor woman terribly!


I thought about the way these balloons had hovered so that I could see them and I had to laugh because it was almost as if the Lord had heard my angry rebuke a little earlier and was trying to wish me a happy birthday. Sceptics among you may scoff and would probably say,


“Come on Drew. You know that it was windy and the balloons had simply drifted away and flown past your window!”


But the more I thought about it the stranger it seemed. Something had definitely made me look up at that precise second; despite being immersed in the book I was reading which at that point had reached a crucial point in the story. I also wondered what had prompted me to look up in the first place. The conservatory and house are situated in an elevated position and look over the roofs of the houses down towards the valley and distant hills, which offer the backdrop for some spectacular sunsets on long summer evenings if the conditions are right. Normally I would be more inclined to look down over the rooftops rather than looking at a cold angry sky. Furthermore, it struck me that this was the sort of situation that had I looked up a few seconds earlier or later, I would have missed this spectacle altogether. The balloons were only visible for a few seconds before the strong winds hustled them out of sight.


In any case, it cheered me up a little and it struck me that the Lord's presence can sometimes appear in your life when you least expect it and sometimes in the strangest and simplest of ways. I could just imagine him looking down at this misguided person who was feeling sorry for himself because he had a cold, ranting and raving at his Master, blaming him for all man's misfortunes and how did he respond? Not with anger or hate, but with love and compassion, with a certain sense of humour thrown in for good measure. Sometimes his presence can be strongly felt, other times it can be very subtle, with things going on quietly in the background that are often missed. However when his presence is felt, it never fails to brings happiness and hope, no matter how sad or how ill a person may be feeling.


My cold did not get better straight away, but it gradually disappeared slowly but surely, day by day, until it simply winked out of existence the way these things suddenly can. For a while I even forgot about that miserable birthday morning that had been lightened so much by the appearance of two simple balloons floating across the winter sky. But now the festive season is fast approaching and with it, on Christmas day of course, a very special birthday will be celebrated. This reminded me of that bleak day back in January so long ago now, as we are almost at the end of another year.


As Christmas approaches I got to thinking it must be a happy occasion for our Lord, but it must also be tinged with sadness. How he must despair at man's inhumanity to man and the troubles that besiege the World nowadays. However there are two sides to a coin and how it must cheer him up when he sees all the people coming along to Church late on Christmas Eve, to give thanks and to praise him for another year. Last year I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Watch night carol service, which is always a really enjoyable occasion because Christmas Day and the excitement of giving and receiving presents is just about to commence. This year I will of course come along, not just to give praise to our Lord, but to try and cheer up an old friend on his birthday and thank him for cheering me up on mine.


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©2009/2012 Drew Robertson

Blackbraes and Shieldhill Parish Church of Scotland

Registered Charity SC 002512