On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the One who told us, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” But on holidays like this that emphasize parties and socializing, many people feel lonely or abandoned. They may not realize how many people around them really do care about them.
Linda from North Carolina wrote:
"Several years ago, we had a family up the hill who were having a very rough time. They had broken glass in their windows, no heat and no prospects for a nice Christmas.
We got neighbors together and one day when they were gone, the men went up and put in new glass, bought heaters and warmed up their trailer and went to get them a Christmas tree. The ladies and kids made ornaments, went to stores and got donations of toys and clothing, food and electric blankets. We all met at the trailer, cooked, decorated, put up the tree, wrapped packages, and made beds with the new blankets then went to our home to wait for them to return.
A while later, the family came running down the hill in the snow and flew into our house, trying to tell us through tears what someone had done. The mother couldn't believe that so many people cared about them. She didn't realize it, but being able to do that for them made Christmas very special for all of us.”
Thank you, Linda, for that perfect story to remind us that the gifts that give us the most satisfaction aren’t those we get, but the ones we give to others.
* * * * *
When you’re making out the guest list for your holiday family get-togethers, please don’t forget that “family” doesn’t just mean blood relations, as Mario from Indiana reminded us:
"I grew up in Mexico in an orphanage with 40 brothers and sisters. My mom and dad, as we called them, were missionaries for 28 years. When we celebrated Christmas we had toys and clothing, but the best gift was that mom cooked breakfast for each child according to what we wanted to eat on Christmas day.
When I asked mom why she did that, she said, "This is my gift for you guys.... Something I can do with my own hands for you." I love my mom and dad for giving us love when our real parents didn't."
Thanks, Mario, for that great reminder that it's important at the holidays also to remember and include the people who are like family to us.
* * * * *
One of the hardest jobs a parent faces is answering all those questions kids ask that sometimes force us to think about things that hadn’t occurred to us as adults. Mary from Ohio wrote:
“Our 6-year-old grandson, Isaiah, who was adopted from Guatemala, posed this question to his parents: ‘Was Baby Jesus adopted?’ Wow! The answer is so deep, and leads to so many other Biblical references to adoption. Joseph wasn't Jesus' father - God was, but Joseph raised him here on Earth. When we accept Jesus, we're adopted into His Heavenly Family, so we're all brothers and sisters. When we become a member of Jesus' family, we're also adopted into the Family of His chosen people, the Jews. So...it seems to me, not only was Jesus adopted, He was the author of Adoption. From the mouths of babes.”
Thank you, Mary. I have a feeling that as that special little boy has grown up, he’s given your family a lot to think about and a lot to be thankful for. And here’s a story that highlights another aspect of adoption, from the other point of view:
Tia from Kansas wrote that Christmas was always the hardest time of year to face, until she discovered a very personal connection to the true meaning of Christmas:
"When I was 16, I was alone and scared on Christmas -- having a baby that I decided to give up for adoption. For years afterward, I didn't like Christmas and never did much during the season. But the Lord changed my heart, showing me that I gave a beautiful gift to some family, my only son, just like He did. I've enjoyed and celebrated Christmas ever since."
Thank you, Tia. I know your son's adoptive parents would thank you a million times over, if they could, for the greatest Christmas gift they ever received. I’m sure Mary from Ohio would agree.
* * * * *
These days, too many people are trying to take religion out of the Christmas season. It sometimes makes me think, “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do…or what they’re missing.” Maybe this letter will make it clear.
A Reverend wrote to me from Malawi:
“After having been raised up in urban North American culture, it was refreshing, but also a bit disorientating, to spend my first Christmas in Africa in 2009. There was a Baptist Church of course, but no Christmas Trees and no caroling in the streets, and no mad dash to the Mall to buy presents. The mixed congregation of ex-pats and nationals who attended the Christmas Sunday service sang the carols we were accustomed to, but there appeared to be far less excitement…
This is the ‘Hungry Times’ when most folks, aside from us ex-pats, are living off of the stored up remnants of last year’s harvest, with an eye to how little there is left and how long until the next harvest comes in. Nevertheless, on the morning after Christmas, we were all called to return to the Church and bring food and clothing and the Word of God and prepare to visit Zomba Central Prison to distribute some hope and good cheer.
This Prison is a daunting facility built by Colonialists in the 1930's that, today, houses twice as many inmates as it was designed for. We shared the goods and the Gospel with inmates, in both men's wing and women's wing. And so, for me, began a ministry of Prison Chaplaincy in the Prisons of southern Malawi.
…It’s ‘Hungry Time" again, but I thank God that the inmates are hungry for the Gospel. In the six Prisons and Prison Farms where we work, we have seen over 240 decisions to accept Christ (including many from Muslim backgrounds) and 160 inmates Baptized and inmates are being transformed by the power of God. Some of those counseled before release are eager to return to their villages and tell others of the one who came as our Savior that first Christmas morning. And for that, I'll forever enjoy a different kind of Christmas.”
Thank you, Reverend, for sharing your unique Christmas experience with us. If you’d like to learn more about the fine work done by Emmanuel International Mission in Malawi and elsewhere, you can read about it online at www.EIM-US.org
* * * * *