"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
Our church had a Christmas mitten tree every year. Members hung new mittens and gloves of all sizes and colors on the tree as the decorations. A local social service organization distributed them to people in the community who could not afford to buy them for themselves. In Minnesota, these were a necessity against the bitter winter cold!
When my daughter Sarah was about five years old, she helped pick out a pair of little pink mittens for the tree. She really
those mittens. And so, even though she knew they were for a little girl who didn't have any mittens, big tears welled up in her little eyes when she bravely hung them on the tree. Naturally, we bought her an identical pair for Christmas.
A few weeks after Christmas, Sarah and I were in the bank together. A mother and daughter walked in, and the little girl was wearing the identical pink mittens that Sarah was wearing. Her little voice echoed brightly through the lobby, "Mommy, Mommy, is that little girl the poor??"
I was horrified as I glanced across the bank lobby at the mother and daughter, and then looked down at Sarah. She excitedly held up her tiny mittened hands. It took me a few moments to mentally piece the story together: ever since Christmas, little Sarah had been on the lookout for the anonymous recipient of the mittens she had lovingly placed on the mitten tree.
A little child shall lead them.
For Sarah, it was not enough to know that
some little girl
got those precious pink mittens. She had a desire to
the little girl-to have a
Ours is a God of loving relationships. The Trinity is a loving community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Congregations are communities shaped by this Trinitarian love. This is the love we have to share with the world!
I'm always inspired how God's love seems unleashed in the world during the Christmas season. Congregations participate in mitten trees, caroling at nursing homes, delivering food baskets-and innumerable other caring Christmas traditions. Thank y
ou for these wonderful, loving activities in your communities!
But perhaps these activities could teach us something about connecting to our neighbors. Here are a few thought-starters:
1. What do your Christmas activities tell you about people and their needs in your community? Consider doing some research on the places and partners you are associated with during the Christmas season. Learn more about them, their mission, and some of your common concerns.
2. Visit. Allow a little more time at each caroling stop. Talk to the residents and staff at the nursing home. Make an appointment to talk to the administrators in January and find out more about the needs and concerns of the residents, families, and staff.
3. What other gifts might spring from your Christmas traditions? In addition to a Christmas party, consider coming back in February with a few Valentine's Day cookies, in March with Easter carols, and so on. By returning, you will begin to develop relationships with the people in these places. And you'll probably look forward to coming back more often!
4. What new habits might your congregation develop for relating in the neighborhood? Christmas activities really demonstrate God's heart for the world. We can see God at work in the joy and generosity around us. Reflect on why these activities matter to your congregation, to the people around you, and to God. What new habits and routines might grow from them?
5. Be ambassadors of God's
constant and ongoing love
for God's people. By returning beyond the Christmas season, we demonstrate God's faithful love for all people in all seasons of life.
I especially love the outdoor lights strung around homes, storefronts, trees, bushes during the Christmas season. When I turn down each street I remember: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." Without even knowing it, the people of this world are proclaiming the Christmas story!
I wish the lights would stay up at least throughout the twelve days of Christmas-and beyond. For too many, the good news is short-lived. They haul out their ladders on Dec 26 and take down the lights.
The darkness is powerless in every way, in every room of our lives. The infant light of Christ has come. And so, when people dismantle the lights of the season,
must shine so that the wonder of the Christ light shines into the world, into the new year.
As your congregation brings light through the Christmas season this year, watch and pray for God's mission to find new beginnings through the wonderful activities you're doing.