John 5:6-7 “When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.”
As some scurry about today to buy last minute gifts; others will spend the day cooking and baking for guests to partake; there will be some that this holiday will feel as if the spirit and life of it have literally been sucked out.
In the last month, I will have attended two funerals, and today I officiate for another. For them, the ‘have’ or ‘have not’ has nothing to do with tangible things but dear ones who will not be with them this Christmas. No well-wishers, cards, gifts or get togethers can replace the warmth of their presence, the joy of their smile or the lightness of their laughter. This Christmas for them, feels like a gaping hole that hurts deeply.
There will be others who will not have a tree, gifts to open, family to gather or a meal to share. Some will stand in line to receive a plate of food given in charity, a blanket for the cold or offered shelter from the elements. Still others will lie far away from loved ones in a hospital bed, a far away country or in a prison cell.
I apologize for the ‘doom and gloom’, but I am truly reminded of the reality of the world we will live in and those around us who, this Christmas will not be as those of Christmas’ past.
Today, I felt the Lord challenge me to be for others in their sorrow; in their poverty; in their situation and circumstance far different from my own. My mother reminded me often with a statement, “There but by the grace of God go I”. Meaning that it is only by God’s amazing grace I could be where they are.
But the challenge went far more personal… We can be “for” others by donating to charity, handing out baskets to needy families and giving time at our local church. We feel good for the good we do. God gave us that. But to go further; to be “with” them in their sorrow, to sit and comfort; to offer our home and prepare to bless those who would normally never see the bounty, warmth and blessing we come to know this time of year.
Long ago, my mother began a cultural tradition that reminded us of our Polish heritage. We had nine meatless dishes; each had meaning and were shared by all who sat at table. But there was always an empty plate set. Mom would put some hay underneath it to signify that should Jesus pass by in need of a place to stay, He would be welcome here.
Often, there were many a guest that sat at that place setting. Each had their reasons for being there – but that never mattered. We had abundance and willingly shared. They became as one of the family. We cried remembering those who could not and would not be with us. We also laughed as we remembered them sharing stories as we ate. We would retire to the living room where it was time to open gifts.
Paper flew and joyous hugs were shared. And for that one who came, Mom would always have something wrapped for them to open. Her preparation for the empty place setting was complete. Many Christmases, we welcomed another into that circle we called ‘family’.
As I look back on those times; with ten people and a dog, we were not rich by any stretch of the imagination. We wore hand-me-down clothes. We ate simple meals. We worked and played – just like all the other kids. We never knew, nor were we ever reminded that we were poor.
I remember, with tears now, the work my parents put into making us feel as if were rich – but not materially. We were rich because we had each other. Rich and more than willing to share with those in need. I learned that the bottom line ledger has nothing to do with the true joy and happiness that comes from embracing those around us and pulling close those who truly need it most.
As you pass by others, stop someone; look them directly in their eyes and wish them the most heartfelt ‘Merry Christmas’. You may very well be that ray of sunshine and glimmer of hope they needed. Be ‘that man‘ to help them into the pool of hope; that pool of grace, that pool of mercy and forgiveness – that pool of love. Go that second mile. Give sacrificially and you will find joy, peace and love.
To all my readers, I wish you a very blessed and Merry Christmas!