I Corinthians 13:4-7; I John 4:7, 11-12
The Reverend Tom Herbek
December 17, 2017
God’s light shines in the darkness. We are not children of darkness, but children of light. We often think we are alone and separate from the light, but Christmas comes each year to remind us that we are children of light. Christmas comes to remind us that we are the way that God’s love is shown to the world. When we are loving, we are the hands and feet and voices of God’s love. And when we are loving, we experience God coming to us and through us.
I once read about a couple who could not have children and wanted to adopt a little boy approximately 6 years old. They visited several adoption agencies and finally found a boy that they felt was a good match for them. As they visited with him, the woman said, “If you would come and live with us, you could have your own room, a nice yard with great play equipment, and all the toys and clothes you could ever want. Would you like to come and live with us?” The little boy hesitated a moment and then said, “No, I don’t think so.” The couple was stunned. The man said to the boy, “But we’ve just offered you everything any little boy could want. What more do you want?” The boy replied, “I just want someone to love me.”
Especially at Christmas, it’s important that we remember this statement. The gifts we give, no matter how expensive, are just small tokens of what we really want at Christmas. We just want someone to love us. The decorating, the shopping, the wrapping, the baking, the getting everything done at work or at home, are not what is most important. What is most important is to experience again that wonderful feeling that someone loves us.
But it is only when we too love someone that they are able to understand who God is. Without us to show love, how can anyone know what God’s love is like?
Children who have been abused are desperate for a chance to believe that God loves them, even though their early experience leads them to believe the opposite. Therapists Tim Celek and Dieter Zander summarize the feelings of abused children, at least some of them, when it comes to God:
Do you know, do you understand that you represent God to me?
Do you know, do you understand that when you treat me with gentleness, it raises the question in my mind that maybe he is gentle, too? Maybe he isn’t someone who laughs when I am hurt.
Do you know, do you understand that when you listen to my questions, and you don’t laugh, I think, “What if God is interested in me, too?”
Do you know, do you understand that when I hear you talk about arguments and conflict and scars from your past that I think, “Maybe I am just a regular person instead of a bad, no-good, little girl who deserves abuse?”
If you care, I think maybe he cares, and then there’s this flame of hope that burns inside of me, and for a while, I am afraid to breathe because it might go out.
Do you know, do you understand that your words are his words? Your face, his face to someone like me?
Please be who you say you are. Please, God, don’t let this be another trick. Please let this be real. Please.
Do you know, do you understand that you represent God to me?
–Inside the Soul of a New Generation
It is when we love that those around us are able to begin to hope, to begin to believe that God loves them. We have a huge responsibility, which is also a huge opportunity. We can be vehicles of God’s love. It may seem far too awesome a task for any of us to take on. But, it becomes much less impossible when we remember that this is what we have been created for. This is who God has created us to be.
Dayna Mager describes an experience that happened to her in a church auditorium soon after the birth of her daughter, Luella:
A missionary had visited an orphanage in Uganda. He has been in many before, but this one was different. He walked into a nursery with more than a hundred cribs filled with babies. He listened in amazement and wonder as the only sound he could hear was silence. A sound that is beyond rare in any nursery, let alone a nursery where over a hundred new babies lay. He turned to his host and asked her why the nursery was silent. (Her response was something I will never, ever forget. Ever. This was my “why” moment).
She looked at him and said, ”After about a week of them being here and crying out for countless hours, they eventually stop when they realize no one is coming for them.”
They stop crying when they realize no one is coming for them. Not in ten minutes, not in four hours, and maybe, perhaps, not ever.
I broke. I literally could have picked up pieces of my heart scattered about the auditorium floor. But instead, it stirred in me a longing. A hunger. A promise in my spirit.
We came home, and that night as Luella rested her tiny little ten-pound body against mine and we rocked, I made a promise to her. A promise that I would always come to her.
At two in the morning, when pitiful, desperate squeals come through a baby monitor, I will come to her.
Her first hurt, her first heartbreak, we will come to her. We will be there to hold her, to let her feel and to make decisions on her own. We will show her through our tears and frustrations at times that it is okay to cry, and it’s okay to feel. That we will always be a safe place, and we will always come to her.
- Love What Matters
In the toughest times of life, whether we are a newborn baby or a 90-year-old, we want someone to come to us when we are in pain. How can anyone possibly know that God is love, if there is no one to respond to their pain, no one to show them love and compassion.
Danny Wakefield describes how an unexpected opportunity came to him one morning:
Last night I bought a sunflower to put on the windshield of someone I’m smitten with. After some consideration, I decided not to, since we had been on only one date, the night previous. Don’t want to come off too strong, right? Anyway, I grabbed the flower on my way out this morning with the intention of giving it to someone on my way to work so it didn’t die alone. What happened next has left me changed in ways I don’t even have words for yet.
While I was sitting and drinking my morning joe at the coffee shop, I saw a woman reading something with tears quietly and quickly sliding down her pale face.
It was like there was a magnet in the sunflower that was being drawn to her, because I knew in that moment that she was who I was going to give the sunflower to; she was who I had to give it to.
When I got to her table, I said, “Hey, pardon me. I have this sunflower that I was hoping to give to someone special, and that someone I had in mind didn’t work out, but I can feel that you’re special too, so I want you to have it.”
Before I could even hand her the sunflower, this complete stranger flew into my arms with tears flowing and gratitude spewing, as if I were someone she’d once loved and lost. It’s what she said next that I’m still trying to grip.
She was crying because her fiance had died the week before, just months before they were going to get married. On their first date, he brought her a sunflower and, from then on, got her sunflowers- never roses- because she was the light of his life.
I’m shaken, awaken, and feeling raw. You never know how much a simple gesture of giving someone a $5 flower will change their life, as well as yours. Life is about giving and being of service to others. I challenge us all to find a way to make someone else’s life just a little bit brighter today. You never know the impact you could have.
- Love What Matters
How can anyone believe in Christmas unless someone shows them some compassion when they are going through suffering? Laura Padgett answers an important question about Christmas:
One would think a seasoned member of Santa’s helpers, and Captain of the Golden, Colorado Elves, could easily answer any Christmas-related question thrown her way. However, that was not the case this time. My inability to quickly formulate, let alone articulate, an answer was not because it was a difficult question. It was due to the setting and what appeared to be the reason behind the child’s inquiry.
A few years ago, at Christmastime, my lieutenant elves and I were helping Santa in a church-based homeless shelter. We were attempting to keep the excited little ones in line while waiting for their one-on-one time with St. Nick. I was distracted from my duties by someone pulling on my elf shirt. The young fellow’s head only reached the middle of my five-foot frame.
I looked into his face and was greeted by twinkling brown eyes and a wide grin showing some missing teeth. He motioned for me to bring an elf ear closer to his mouth.
When I was within hearing distance, he asked, “Miss Elf, is Christmas for me too this year?”
His hopeful expression broke my heart. I returned to a standing position, hoping that moving slowly would buy me the time needed to come up with an answer. Somehow, a simple “yes” just did not seem to be enough.
“Yes. Yes,” I said, “Christmas is for everyone. And it is especially for you this year.”
His eyes sparkled as he received the answer, nodded his head and moved in the direction of the big guy in red. I was pretty sure there was a sparkle in my eyes as well, but it was due to tears. I wondered how many times he had asked that sad question, and what answers he had received, during his young life.
I watched as he and Santa engaged in conversation. I could not take my eyes off him until I heard a soft voice in my left ear: “Thank you. You made his Christmas. May I give you a hug?”
I turned to face a woman in her mid-twenties who looked like the boy’s mother. She gave me that hug and then asked permission to tell me her story. I nodded again.
She related that for the past four years she and her two children had lived on the streets of Denver. She had fled an abusive marriage in the hope of keeping herself and her children safe. In summer months they slept under bridges. In winter they were housed overnight in shelters when there was room for them. She had not completed her high school education. So, at best, she was only able to find sporadic, temporary employment.
She had recently passed her G.E.D. and been accepted into a training program she believed would qualify her for permanent employment. In the past, she was unable to provide holiday celebrations for her children, and this was the first joyful Christmas her little family would know. She said she felt like there finally was light shining in their darkness, and that light was restoring her faith along with her hope.
At the conclusion of her tale, I more fully understood why her son asked the question. When mother and child reunited, they moved on to a table full of food. The little guy was literally pulling his mother toward the celebratory feast. Before they reached the table, he turned to look at me. I smiled and winked at him. He smiled back and attempted to wink by quickly blinking both eyes several times.
I left the church that night with elf bells jingling and pointed green shoes plodding along in a snow-covered parking lot. I thanked God for His mercies and for that little family. I felt gratitude for being allowed to be part of their celebration. As I considered what had just happened, I asked myself if I had ever really understood the true meaning of Christmas until that moment. Had I ever been such a close witness to hope offered to the hopeless? Had I previously, and intentionally, taken time from my busy schedule to observe others experiencing new life and another chance? Wasn’t that really what Christmas was supposed to be about? I can honestly testify that in an old church, on a wintry Denver night, in the presence of a child angel who relied on a secular elf to answer a sacred question, I was a recipient of the true blessing of Christmas. And I understood that every year, in the busyness of the worldly holiday season, there is one question that must never go unanswered: “Is Christmas for me too this year?”
- Chicken Soup for the Soul
God’s love on earth is only a reality when we make it so. We just want someone to love us, whether we are 9 years old or 90 years old. And, as we give love away, it truly is a time when Christmas is also for us this year.
May we each be God’s people of love in our families, with our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and the strangers we meet this Christmas season. And may we be the answer to their prayers: “We just want someone to love us.”
And through us, may they experience the trust of love deep down: “For God so loved the world so much, that he gave his only Son…” And in helping others to experience God’s love, may we experience it once more ourselves in all its fullness and its surprising wonder within us.
So, may Christmas really be for each person we meet this year– and also, for each of us!