As we approach Christmas, I’m reminded once again about the contrast between the modern Christmas celebration and the reason Christ came that first Christmas. He did not come in splendor as royalty but was born in obscurity to a humble family in less than servant quarters. There were no Christmas present lists or baby showers to herald the Christ child’s arrival. Christ came as he lived—He came for us! He came to serve.
In the earliest Christian Gospel of Mark, John Mark, a companion with Paul on his missionary journey, provides a centering perspective for Christians at Christmas (10:43-45): “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
My father has often shared memories of the Great Depression. He talked about his father’s frantic efforts to make mortgage payments on the family farm. The crops were bad, and the price the crops brought even worse. My dad’s older brothers were hired out to richer farmers. They received room and board and a small monthly payment that had to be sent home to help pay the family mortgage. A depression Christmas meant that you received a special orange and nothing else. The Christmas dad remembered most was a Christmas without even an orange. His devout parents told the family that there would be no presents that year; a poor family had moved into town and needed community support. Christ came through believers into that depression Christmas—“I’m not here to be served, but to serve.”
Last year, Ventura County Star reporter, Adam Foxman, covered Janice Jaynes Christensen’s Christmas Day open house. With the recent loss of both their son and a nephew, Janice and her husband, Fred, could have easily turned their home into a place of Christmas mourning. Instead, inspired by their other son's missionary work in South Africa, Janice chose to make their home a haven of holiday cheer by inviting strangers to share a home-cooked Italian meal.At noon on Christmas Day, along with a few relatives and friends, their home filled up with strangers who had read about the open celebration in the Star. The strangers included people looking for some company on Christmas and others who were so touched by the hosts' gesture that they wanted to help.
The afternoon was filled with the aroma of homemade lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs and the sounds of a couple of dozen people chatting happily. Some called Janice an angel. She laughed and said, “I’m just an Italian New Yorker who likes food and seeing people mix.” But after a rough year, she confessed that this unique Christmas celebration had been a powerful experience. She said. "It's been really touching for me. I think when this is all over I'm going to go into a room and cry." Once again, Christ came through believers into another Christmas—“I’m not here to be served, but to serve.”
Overwhelmed with anguish, Dong Yun Yoon walked in the rubble of what had been his University City home. His wife, two children and mother-in-law had been killed when a fighter jet lost power and crashed through their home and burst into flames.
"I believe my wife and two babies and mother-in-law are in heaven with God, and He is taking care of them,” Yoon said. At his first news conference, Yoon went on to ask for guidance from people who have suffered "more terrible things." There was no lawyer standing next to Dong Yun Yoon seeking someone to blame and sue. Instead, his family, his pastor and members of his Korean United Methodist faith community surrounded him with love and support.
As the economic challenges continue to grow, more jobs will be lost, more foreclosures will be made and more tears will be shed. This Christmas, as we look to the New Year, the opportunities to serve are only going to increase. Instead of impersonal bailouts using taxpayer money and debts future generations will have to pay, for Christians and non-Christians alike, this is not a time to ask for gifts, but a time to be a gift to your neighbors in need. This Christmas, may you be a Merry Christmas blessing to others in your midst!