By Norris Burkes Dec 18 2022

You likely know that tired, old dad joke — “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.”

I put the saying to the test years ago during our Christmas dinner gathering at the childhood home of my wife, Becky.

Since the early death of my father, Becky’s father, Wil, has encouraged me to call him “Dad.” Reciprocally, he sometimes calls me “Son,” (although mostly when I annoy him).

Truly, I’ve never cared what he calls me – just not late for the lavish spreads furnished by his wife, Darla.

Christmas at Darla’s table differed greatly from those in my childhood home.

Her banquets resembled the turkey feast famously portrayed in Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want.”  

The house bustled with the reunion of aunts, uncles and cousins. We were a crowded, noisy bunch. Cooks labored in an overheated kitchen while impassioned football fans filled the TV room.

We all waited for that moment when Darla would ask Wil to bless the food.

I don’t recall the exact words of his prayers, but I do remember how his baritone voice carried the weight and warmth of sustaining hope. His prayers were extemporaneous, poetic, powerful, and above all, humble.

His appeals brought the listener into the presence of a “gracious God” and comforted the surrounding guests with the tender love of a sympathetic creator. They originated from his heart –  never recorded, written or memorized.

By the time I’d been a guest a dozen times, I began to hope I might be granted the honor of giving the Christmas prayer.

But any hints I gave were lost in the meal-prep confusion. Dad was busy telling jokes, hustling extra chairs into place and carving the turkey.

However, as usual, the meal seemed unlikely to begin on schedule, delaying the dinner prayer.  

One moment Darla declared the dinner ready, and the next moment the kitchen crew announced, “False start.” Potatoes were not yet mashed, so salivating football fans returned to the Dallas game.

When the potatoes finally came to the table, start-time was reconsidered as someone noted the dinner rolls were cold. While they warmed, I called for a bathroom timeout.

I expected the announcement to stop the game clock.

It didn’t. Either I wasn’t heard or perhaps the absence of another preacher among so many start/stops seemed insignificant.

While I was away, my father-in-law began a prayer much like this:

“Almighty God,

“YHWH*, King of the Universe,

“We want to celebrate this Advent Season in remembrance of the arrival of our Lord and Savior as God-in-the-flesh knowing it also points to Easter.

“As the Christmas Carol says, ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,’ bringing Joy to the World.

“May we open our mind and heart to receive it. Yes. Yes.

“Now let us repeat the words our Lord taught us to say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come thy will be done….’”

Of course, I can’t be sure that’s what he said, because I’d spent most of my bathroom visit reading December’s Reader’s Digest. But when I finally returned, the rolls were nearly gone and my favorite dark meat was depleted.

Wil reached his 90th birthday this year. Yet as a retired pastor now widowed, he remains active at church and is still praying strong.

He’d be honored if you used his prayer at your gathering.

By the way, we’re progressing, Wil and I. After editing this column draft last week, Dad finally asked me to give the blessing at Taco Tuesday.

No word yet on who’ll give the Christmas prayer next Sunday. But you can bet I’ll be on time.


*This name for God which occurs most frequently in the Hebrew Bible is pronounced Yah-Way.


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