I grew up with the typical Christian family Christmas mantras. Thoughts such as- “It’s better to give than to receive” and “The richest man is a man that knows he’s loved” were things said often around Christmas. As a child I knew my family was poor, but I heard my mother’s optimism so often through those phrases that often times, I forgot we were poor. We didn’t have much, but we had each other. Christmas still had to have something for me, though. If I were to be honest, God coming as Savior was always the second thing on my mind. I loved Jesus, but… What would be in my stocking this year? I was 21 before that attitude changed.
That Christmas, I was serving my first of three years at a shelter and prevention center for the homeless community in my home town. Through the help of the Churches we started organizing Christmas gifts for people that just needed a little help that year. I made calls to quilters asking for as many handmade blankets they could manage. A coworker called local businesses asking for pledges of food, coats, pencils… Anything. We asked for any kind of toy… Anything at all.
One family that I was responsible for that year was just a single father and his four year old daughter. A group of ladies volunteered to sponsor the little girl.. And sponsor her they did. It took three of us several trips to the car and back before all the presents were delivered. The little girl couldn’t stop squealing. She knew those presents were for her and she couldn’t be happier.
Another one of the ladies with me took the daughter outside to play as I spoke to her dad. He hadn’t asked for help, but had been warned that we were stopping by with, “something.” The gentle giant just cried and hugged me until I almost couldn’t breathe. I had never experienced not being provided for… Nor did I know what it was like to not be able to provide for a child. The look on this father’s face testified that he knew that feeling all too well.
“You made her smile. You gave her a pillow-pet. You made her smile. You actually made her smile.” I didn’t stop smiling as I timidly apologized that the only thing we had for him was food and blankets. His next words changed my attitude of Christmas altogether.
“Hun, I couldn’t care less about what trinkets you could collect for me. You provided for my child when I couldn’t. My heart is full. You’ll never know the power of a gift until someone provides when you cannot.”
I walked away from their home overwhelmed with the reminder that I knew very little of the gift of Christ. But what this Daddy had said hit the nail on the head. God, in his Greatness provided for me when I couldn’t provide for myself. Without the gift of His Son, life would be pointless and impossible yet God gave me Jesus because He knew I needed Him. Just as this father in front of me sacrificed his pride because he knew the outcome would bring his daughter joy… God sacrificed his Son to bring me life- despite the fact that I would never have enough to match His gift in full.
From then on out, as trite as it sounds, Christmas became an attitude- not an event. God gave everything out of Love and with complete joy. He then called me to go and live likewise. It was never about what I got on Christmas in the first place. It’s always been what I could give and how my heart mirrored the joy of Christ because of the gift first given to me. Christmas became the reminder that God called me to be His image-bearer.
“Emmanuel” means something completely different when you lock arms with a struggling father.