At yesterday’s Senior Adult Christmas Luncheon I told the story of the time my mother canceled Christmas. She had her reasons for doing so and, as I said to the Senior Adults, most of them were religious reasons. She had been suspicious of Christmas’s “pagan” roots for a long time, but then she found a passage in her King James Bible that seemed to be a prophetic word against the practice of putting up Christmas trees. It’s from Jeremiah 10, and it goes like this:
Thus saith the LORD,
Learn not the way of the heathen,
and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven;
for the heathen are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the people are vain:
for one cutteth a tree out of the forest,
the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
They deck it with silver and with gold;
they fasten it with nails and with hammers,
that it move not (Jer. 10:2-4).
She gathered us together and read those words aloud, and then she looked up to see what we thought. We were astounded. It seemed perfectly clear that Jeremiah was talking about Christmas trees, and equally clear that we wouldn’t have one that year. But Mom went further than that: she announced that we wouldn’t be having Christmas at all that year, that she could no longer participate in such a heathen custom.
If you had been there yesterday to hear the rest of the story, you would have heard how my mom tried to turn our “pagan” celebration of Christmas into something pure and holy. How we had a big breakfast together on Christmas morning, heard the story of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke, and sang “Happy Birthday” to him when Mom brought out a surprise birthday cake. But you would have also heard how we couldn’t hide our disappointment, and how the next year my mom—who loved her boys almost as much as she loved Jesus—brought Christmas back.
“Yes, there was a year when my mom canceled Christmas,” I told the Senior Adults, “but please don’t hold it against her. She was, and is, a very religious woman, but she was also, in those days, very poor. I once saw her, standing near the cash register at Heck’s Discount Department store in Kanawha City, West Virginia, looking at the few dollars she held in her hand and wondering how she was going to make Christmas for all her boys out of that. She looked completely overwhelmed.
At Community Missions on Wednesday I told our homeless neighbors, “Christmas is better for some people than others. If you have a lot of money—if you can give and get expensive gifts—it’s pretty good. But if you don’t have money it’s hard: you can’t give what your heart wants to give. And that’s why I love the story of that first Christmas so much. The angel came to shepherds, who were the poorest, dirtiest, smelliest people in all of Bethlehem, and said to them, ‘Hey, I’ve got good news, and it’s for you! Today in the City of David, a savior has been born: Christ the Lord. And it’s not just good news for some of the people, the ones with money, but for all of the people, including you.’”
The people at Community Missions that morning seemed to appreciate that—cold, tired, and wet as they were, having just come in out of the rain. One of the ways we can bring heaven to earth in this season is to share the good news of Jesus’ birth, and to remind people that God’s salvation is for everyone. But we can also do this: we can stuff stockings and provide gifts for mothers to give to their children, mothers who may only have a handful of dollars and who may be on the verge of canceling Christmas themselves, not for religious reasons but for practical ones.
In a previous post I shared some of the many ways First Baptist Church is doing that through its ministry of compassion. Take another look at that list by clicking HERE, and see if you can help. It’s another way of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and it may be your way.