Friday, December 2

Advent 2011

Emma and Robah Gentry staffed the church nursery for more than a decade.  They were an older couple who looked positively ancient to me when I was a child, but were only in their sixties.  Only Mrs. Gentry was on the payroll, but her husband drove her to the church and he loved children so much he became a fixture in the nursery.  To this day I cannot remember that room without seeing one or the other of them in a rocking chair with a small child.  We arrived at Wake Forest Baptist Church at the same time.  They always said, "Chris was our first baby." Later, the family operation grew larger when Mr. Gentry's sister Mae Mabe started caring for the kindergarten-aged children.  Some of us used to help her corral that group during the worship service, particularly if John Collins was there.  He was a runner and could be out the door and down the hall in an instant if you weren't watching.

I loved the Gentrys, and although I didn't see them much after they retired and I went off to graduate school, I kept up with them through my parents.  I was particularly saddened the year I graduated and came home for the holidays to learn that Mr. Gentry had died unexpectedly two days before Christmas.  They had just moved into a nursing home because Mrs. Gentry was ill and he was no longer able to care for her on his own.

So on Christmas Day, after we had opened our presents and enjoyed the morning, my family did a very unusual thing:  We all piled into the car and drove to attend a visitation.  En route I kept thinking what a horrible day it was to hold the event and how it would ruin Christmas.  Not surprisingly, there were not a lot of people in attendance - only family in fact - so in one sense I was right.  But in the other, I couldn't have been more wrong.

In true Hendricks fashion, my parents, sister, and I swept into the chapel.  Far from being a depressing moment, I was surprised to see the family sitting beside the casket light up in smiles.  As we walked down the aisle, I heard Mrs. Mabe, whom I hadn't seen in at least ten years, ask the lady beside her, "Is that Jim or Chris?"  We hugged and laughed and remembered what a wonderful man Robah Gentry had been and how blest we all were because he was a part of our lives.

Later that evening, as I drove over to pick up my aged  grandparents to return to our house for Christmas dinner, I couldn't help thinking how much my attitude had changed from that morning.  Far from "ruining" Christmas, our visit with the Gentry family and our remembrances of Robah Gentry really drove home for me the true meaning of Christmas.  Without Christmas, without the Word becoming flesh, there can be no Easter.

- Christopher Hendricks


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