Strange Visitor – A Christmas Story

Back in December 1979 I was a brand new missionary for the LDS Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sometimes called the Mormons) This was sent to me in a package I received from home.  I thought I would share it with all my friends in Cyberspace. I didn’t write this and I don’t know who did. Please enjoy it.

STRANGE VISITOR

            I had just finished the household chores for the night and was preparing to go to bed when I heard a noise in the front of the house. I opened the door of the front room, and to my surprise, Santa Claus himself stepped out from behind the Christmas tree.

He placed his fingers over his lips so I wouldn’t cry out. “What are you doing…? I started to ask, but the words choked up in my throat as I saw that he had tears in his eyes. His usual jolly manner was gone. Gone was the eager, boisterous soul we all know.

He then answered me with the simple statement of “Teach the Children.” I was puzzled. What did he mean? He anticipated my question and with one quick movement brought a miniature toy bag from behind the tree.

As I stood there in my night shirt bewildered, Santa again said, “Teach the Children.” My perplexed expression still showed in the near darkness.

“Teach them the old meaning of Christmas… the meaning that Christmas now-a-days has forgotten.”

I started to say, “How can I…?”  when Santa reached into the toy bag and pulled out a brilliant star.

“Teach the children, the star was the heavenly sign of promise long ages ago. God promised a Savior for the world and a sign of the fulfillment of that promise was the great star of the East. The star now reminds us of God’s love for mankind and of God now fulfilling His promise. The countless shining stars at night…one for each man…now show the burning hope of all mankind.”

Santa gently laid the star upon the fireplace mantle and drew forth from the bag a glittering red Christmas ornament.

“Teach the children, red is the first color of Christmas. It was first used by the faithful people to remind them of the blood which was shed for all people by the Savior.”

“Christ gave his life and shed his blood that every man might have God’s gift to all, eternal life. Red is deep, intense, vivid…it is the greatest color of all. It is the symbol of the gift of God.”

As Mr. Claus was twisting and pulling another object out of his bag, I heard the kitchen clock strike twelve. I wanted to say something but he went right on.

“Teach the children,” he said as the twisting and pulling suddenly dislodged a small Christmas tree from the depths of the toy bag.

Here was the second color of Christmas. “The pure color of the stately fir tree remains green all year round,” he said.

“This depicts the everlasting hope of mankind. Green is the youthful, hopeful, abundant color of nature. All the needles point heavenward…symbolic of man’s returning thoughts toward heaven. The great green tree has been man’s best friend. It has sheltered him, warmed him, made beauty for him, formed his furniture.”

Santa’s eyes were beginning to twinkle now as he stood there. Suddenly I heard a soft tinkling sound. As it grew louder and louder, it seemed like the sound of long ago.

“Teach the children, that as the lost sheep are found by the found by the sound of the bell, so should it ring for man to return to the fold…it means guidance and return, it further signifies that all are precious in the eyes of the Lord. Who is there among you if his son asks for bread will give him a stone?”

As the soft sharp sound of the bell faded into the night, Santa drew forth a candle. He placed it on the mantle and the soft glow from its tiny flame cast an eerie glow about the darkened room. Odd shapes in shadows slowly danced and weaved upon the walls.

“Teach the children,” whispered Santa, “That the candle shows man’s thanks for the star of long ago. Its small light is the mirror of starlight. At first candles were placed on the Christmas tree…they were like many glowing stars shining against the dark green. Safety now has removed the candles from the tree and the colored lights have taken over in that remembrance.”

Santa turned the small Christmas tree lights on and picked up a gift from under the tree. He pointed to the large bow ribbon and said, “A bow is placed on a present to remind us of the spirit of the brotherhood of man.”

“We should remember that the bow is tied as men should be tied…all of us together, with the bonds of goodwill toward each other. Goodwill forever is the message of the bow.”

Now my mind began to wonder what else old Santa might have in his bag. Instead of reaching in his bag, he slung it over his shoulder and began to reach upon the tree.

I thought he was hungry as he reached for a candy cane, purposely placed high on the tree. He unfastened it and reached out toward me with it.

“Teach the children that the candy cane represents the shepherd’s crook. The crook on the staff helps bring back the strayed sheep of the fold. The candy cane represents the helping hand we should show at Christmas time. The candy cane is the symbol that we are our brother’s keeper.

Santa then paused; he seemed to realized he should be on his way. Later would be his big day. As he looked about the room, a feeling of satisfaction shone on his face. He read wonderment in my eyes, and I am sure he sensed my admiration for this night. He was his old self as he approached the front door. The twinkle in his eyes gave Santa away; I knew that he wasn’t through yet. He reached into his bag and brought forth a large holly wreath. He placed it on the door and said, “Please teach the children, the wreath symbolizes the eternal nature of love; it never ceases, stops or ends. It is one continuous round of affection. The wreath does double duty. It is made of many things and in many colors. It should remind us of all the things of Christmas. Please teach the children.”

I pondered and wondered and thrilled with delight,

As I sat and viewed all those symbols at night.

I dozed as I sat in the soft candle light,

My thoughts were of Santa and all he made right.

To give and help, to love and to serve

Are the best things of life all men can deserve.

Old Santa Claus, that jolly old elf,

Is the very best symbol of Christmas itself.

He’s the sign of the gift of love and life,

The end of evil, the ceasing of strife.

His message to me on this pre-Christmas night,

Has opened a treasure of deepest insight.

The one thing on earth we all we all out to do,

Is the teaching of children the right and the true?

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Health Reimbursement Arrangement or Account (HRA)

It has been much to long since my last post. My life has been pretty hectic lately. This is a post that I have wanted to put up for some time.

The last few months I have been doing some work with a company who among other things works with Fortune 500 companies and their retirees. One thing that many of these companies do is provide funds for those retirees to help them pay for their Medicare Supplement plans and other medical expenses through a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). This begs the question: what is a HRA?

A HRA (Health Reimbursement Arrangement also sometimes called a Health Reimbursement Account) is a tax qualified, employer established benefit plan that can be used as part of a company’s total health benefit package. This can be for current and former employees (typically retirees in my experience) alike.

The employer has a great deal of flexibility in plan design and offering various combinations of benefits. The employee/retiree does not have to be covered by any other health care plan to participate. (Although the employer can structure it to require certain types of benefits in order to qualify)

According to IRS Publication 969:

A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) must be funded solely by an employer. The contribution cannot be paid through a voluntary salary reduction agreement on the part of an employee. Employees (or retirees) are reimbursed tax free for qualified medical expenses up to a maximum dollar amount for a coverage period. An HRA may be offered with other health plans, including FSA’s.

  • Unlike HSAs or Archer MSAs which must be reported on Form 1040 or Form 1040NR, there are no reporting requirements for HRAs on your income tax form.

What are some of the benefits of an HRA?

  • Contributions made by the employer can be excluded from gross income.
  • Reimbursements may be tax free if you pay qualified medical expenses.

Generally, qualified medical expenses are those that are eligible for the medical & dental expense deduction on Form 1040 Schedule A. They also include health insurance premiums, long term care coverage and amounts not covered under another health plan.

  • Any unused amounts in the HRA can be carried forward for reimbursements in later years.
  • CAUTION: You cannot claim a reimbursement from an HRA and deduct those same expenses on Schedule A.

 Contribution Limits:

There is no limit on the amount of money the employer can contribute to the accounts. Additionally, the maximum reimbursement amount credited under the HRA in the future may be increased or decreased by amounts not previously used.

Balances remaining in the HRA at the end of the year can generally be carried over to the next year. The employer is not permitted to refund any part of the balance to you. These amounts can never be used for anything but reimbursements for qualified medical expenses.

Distributions from an HRA:

Generally, distributions from an HRA must be paid to reimburse you for qualified medical expenses. The date the expense was incurred must be on or after the date of enrollment into the HRA. Plans can be structured in such a way as to be paid to a designated beneficiary. Some of those individuals include:

Current and former employees, spouses (including surviving spouses), dependents of those employees among others.

In order for a HRA to maintain tax-qualified status, employers must comply with certain requirements that apply to certain accident and health plans.  (See Publication 15-B)