“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” —John 10:10b
Christmastime in eastern Czechoslovakia was bitter and cold in 1910. A terrible plaque of diphtheria had swept through and devastated many lives in the little village of Velky Slavhov. Half of the village contracted the disease and many of the victims were just children—less than ten years of age. When anyone in the family would start to show symptoms, they’d put a large black “X” on their doorpost to warn others that it had been quarantined.
There was an “X” painted on the doorpost of the home of Jano and Suzanna Barotkova. In less than a week, this couple found themselves childless. Their oldest child, only five, was the first to pass because of the disease. And even as Jano was working in the woodshed building her coffin, his other two sons were dying.
The two young boys eventually breathed their last and Suzanna finally broke out in agonizing sobs. The couple carefully laid their children, one by one, into handmade pine caskets and lifted them onto a wagon and started towards the graveyard. They passed house after house marked with a black X, but they were too weak and too depressed to offer any sympathy or encouragement to the others.
They buried their children, struggled through the Lord’s prayer and headed back home. Jano himself was sick now. He said, “I won’t see another Christmas. I don’t think I’ll see the New Year in, either.” He pushed away his soup and bread because it was too hard for him to swallow. The diphtheria had begun to constrict his throat. Suzanna gathered some kindling and lit a fire for the night, sure that her husband would be dead by morning.
Suddenly she saw someone approaching—a peasant woman tramping through the snow wearing a red and purple shawl. She had a jar of clear liquid in her hand, and she approached the couple’s home and knocked on the door. Suzanna cautiously opened the door and said, “We have the plague in our home, and my husband is in a fever right now.” The old woman nodded and asked if she could step inside, and she held out her little jar. She said, “Take a clean, white linen and wrap it around your finger. Then dip your finger into this pure kerosene oil and swab out your husband’s throat—then have him swallow a tablespoon of the oil. This should cause him to vomit the deadly mucous. Otherwise he will suffocate. I will pray for you and your family.”
Then, the woman left behind her remedy and left the home. Suzanna followed the woman’s instructions and early Christmas morning, Jano retched up the deadly mucous. His fever broke and Suzanna had a flicker of hope. There were no presents or children that year, but an old woman with her jar of oil was a gift of life to that couple. Jano recovered and eventually, he and Suzanna emigrated to America and had many children.
That story has been handed down through the generations of that family—how a little peasant woman came on Christmas Eve bearing the gift of life for those who were dying. And this is exactly what Jesus has done! He came on Christmas day bearing the gift of life for those sick, dying, and hopeless. The deadly plague of sin has affected all of mankind and we cannot cure ourselves. The good news is, Jesus came to give life—eternal and abundant life. There is hope if you have the gift of life that Jesus came to bring on Christmas day.
Note: You will find this story in many works, but I read it first in Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations by Robert J. Morgan.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie, Aries, and Dot.