Pastor Daniel Bramlett
Can you imagine how different Christmas would be if you had to choose between paying your food bill or buying presents? Most of us cannot. There are some who lived through the Depression who can tell stories like this, but sadly, most people relegate those stories to an era so long ago and so far away it can never be repeated. Unbeknownst to the majority, there is a quiet group of people who are still living hand to mouth. They have no access to credit cards, so they can’t put up the front others afford themselves. Their support group is strong but few and so their stories aren’t often told. So many times I’ve heard their stories dismissed under the words “addiction” or “laziness”, but those words are not catch-all’s. Certainly, those two words can be used to describe many families who appear to fall into the almost but not quite making it category. But there are many, many more who would not be found there. Their words would be more like “one bad choice” or “didn’t know the right people” or “just couldn’t get a break.” When you talk to these people, and by that I mean really sit down and listen to their stories, you find they are not unlike many of the successful people you know. They have hopes and dreams. Many of them are educated. Many have good kids who love them very much. But their good is overshadowed by bills and needs they can’t meet. They never see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I meet the people I’m talking about on a daily basis. They are scattered around town in older homes, in homeless shelters, in hospitals and in the jails. You see them in the grocery stores with very little in their buggies or in the Church pew with tears in their eyes. They aren’t invisible, we just choose not to see them. They aren’t absent, we just choose not to count them.
God sees them. He’s seen them from the beginning. In fact, the Christmas story is full of them! Mary and Joseph certainly didn’t have too many pennies to put together. As a country priest, Zechariah and Elizabeth probably weren’t known for their wealth either. But then there is also Simeon, an old man who’s been told he will live to see the Messiah and Anna, the elder prophetess who spent her days reminding the visitors to the Temple court of the coming King. The Shepherds knew no more meals than what they scavenged in the fields or packed scantly before they left home. The beautiful thing about this story we all love is every single need gets met. Every single forgotten person is seen and heard. Every single heart that longs for the rescuing grace of the Father is met by the peace-bringing Son.
I would argue the miracle of Christmas is much more easily grasped by the family living hand to mouth, than it is by the family with enough food to feed several more families. Our opulence (and that is exactly what most of us enjoy) blinds us to much of the grace and beauty of Christmas. Like Nicodemus, we find it hard to believe we need saving. “Saved from what?” I hear many people ask. “My life is exactly as I would want it to be.” Just like Nicodemus, there is a world of conversation waiting for that person on the other side of grace. Jesus didn’t come to save us from our square footage, our wardrobes, our heated seat vehicles or our 70-inch TV’s. He came to save us from ourselves and the death we are bound for apart from Him. The person with little doesn’t have to be reminded of that quite as often. He knows he needs help.
Where would you be found in Israel 2000 years ago? Would you be pandering at the palace, hoping to be invited to a royal party, stressing over what you might wear and who you might see? Would you be one of the thousands of families traveling to your birth town to be registered in the census? What would your travel look like? Caravan’s and carpets or donkeys and sandals? Once you got to your town, would you be fortunate enough to have a reservation at Bethlehem’s Hyatt or would you be scrambling alongside the newly weds for a room? If it came down to it, would you lower yourself to sleeping in a barn? Would you be complaining about the animal smells and noises or would you be thankful for a roof and some dry straw?
I don’t know that any of us can really answer those questions without being there, but I do know this: the grateful ones on that incredible night all those years ago were the ones who had little to nothing. Only the broken were fortunate enough to be the first to worship the newborn King. If God saw that stratum of society as worthy enough to give them the first position in line, shouldn’t we also?
I pray you choose sacrifice this Christmas over opulence and love over glitz. Take the time to walk our streets and pray for families who might have a little more pain and a lot more need than you. Sit next to a new family at Church and ask some gentle questions in the line at the grocery store. You may find a new friend. You may find yourself being led to the manger in a whole new way.