Nightfall finds me in a strange town, where I've never stayed before, in need of lodging as I travel. It is the Episcopal Church (USA) litigation (a term which should be an oxymoron, but which sadly isn't) that brings me here, just ten days before Christmas.
What a contrast! The town is full of lights, decorations, music and good cheer. Families are out with their children, taking in the sights, shopping for gifts, and sipping hot mulled cider while nibbling on gingerbread. But I am here alone, en route to a preliminary skirmish before the battle royal in mere weeks that will decide the fate of thousands -- at least at this first (trial court) stage.
I share readily in the town's festive mood, smiling at perfect strangers and wishing them all "Merry Christmas." What is it about Christmas that brings out the best in friends and strangers alike?
First of all, no one wants to be a dour old Scrooge -- or if they do, the rest just chuckle at them, and refuse to let sourpusses spoil the season's cheer.
Second, the good cheer is contagious, like nothing else in the world. It builds and builds as it travels through the streets, sweeping up all in its wake. And once one catches it -- well, one would have to be a real Scrooge to resist its power and charm.
But third and most magic of all, it is at Christmas when humans show that they are -- every one -- made in God's image. The lights, the trees, the gifts and decoration, the laughter and joys -- they are the outward and visible signs of God's most precious gift to us, which is ours to savor every day of our earthly lives, whether we appreciate it or not.
For it was freely given -- and for the sake of that great gift, God sent His only Son to dwell among us so that we might have the hope of eternal life with Him Who made us in his very image. What could make us more complete? What more ever could we have asked for, in our wildest imagination?
Think for a moment: those who do not (yet) know God, and Jesus Christ as their Savior, have no reason to be merry at Christmas -- yet many are anyway, without asking or trying to divine the reason. But what you and I know, and they may not (yet), is that it does not take Christmas to let out the best in us. For Christians, the joy and good cheer is there at any time we wish to celebrate our having been made in God's image.
God loves us! Through His Son, we are saved! That is good news for any day of the year, no matter how bleak or empty it may appear to someone on the outside, or (like Scrooge at the start of Dickens' story) on the fringe looking in.
So -- especially in this season -- I hope those of you who delight in the Gospel will be extra-sensitive to those who could use some of the Good News. There is no magic recipe, for each of us shares what we know in the way we do best. In the same way, you will choose the opportunity when it seems just right for the other person -- after all, you were born for this moment! The point is to see God's image in the other, and to let that spark of recognition kindle your God-engraven heart as you recognize one of His own, in need of His Good News.
As for me, tomorrow I must put on the armor of light and sally forth to combat. Even secular warriors, however, withdraw from the front to be with their loved ones at Christmas. So do not extend your sympathies: in just a few days I shall be back by my own hearth, in the bosom of my extended family, and celebrate with them the most holy message of Christmas -- the best part of which is that it is all year round.
God bless us, every one!