Having been raised in The Salvation Army, I became accustomed to the usual frantic pace of Christmas. So many of my memories of the season are associated with ministry.
For a young band enthusiast, serenading was the centerpiece of activity. When the senior band ensemble invited this junior band member to become “one of them” and play along the streets of my community on Christmas Day, I was ecstatic. What a privilege! In retrospect, they probably were one cornet short and I was the best they could come up with. Well, anyway, I played my heart out but almost froze. Returning home to the warm kitchen where mother was cooking the turkey, all I could do was cry because my fingers were beginning to thaw and the pain was unbearable. “Rub them in your air,” she advised and strangely enough, it worked. But that occasion and many more afterwards, reinforced the attitude that the fun and joy of Christmas was sometimes accompanied by pain.
“Ringing the bell” at the Christmas kettle was an annual event as well. In those days as a candidate, the corps officer believed I needed as much training as possible in the practical ministry of an officer. Long shifts on the kettle seemed to be his solution to my inexperience.
Yet one scene from that shopping mall has been indelibly etched in my brain and has continually reminded me of the grace of our seeking savior. I noticed a young child leave the large department store and look around the crowd as though trying to find a familiar face. You could read the panic in his eyes. Not long after an older man, who in my mind may have been his grandfather, emerged from the store and stood to the side. He watched the lost child. Finally, their eyes met and running to embrace the boy, I heard the old man say, “You thought you were lost, didn’t you, but I knew where you were all the time.”
The pain of “lostness” and certainly the personal guilt associated with our running from the father’s side is met with the joy of his embrace and sense of belonging.
Delivering Christmas hampers in Tisdale, Saskatchewan, was another reminder that the world needed Christmas. What we do as Salvationists is only what our Lord has modeled in a far more profound way. One of the soldiers and I took the basket of Christmas groceries to the home of a lady, known throughout the town to be a hopeless addict. No longer was alcohol meeting her craving. She was using Lysol Spray and her mind was “baked.” To say her children were neglected would be an understatement. Bless their hearts. That day when we arrived, and placed the Christmas hamper on the table, one of the children leaped on top of the table scurrying through the groceries and toys. His beaming face was worth all the hard work of Christmas ministry.
Every year I reflect on the pain and joy of the season. Some pain, like frozen fingers for the pleasure of serenading, is worth it all. Other pain–like lostness or poverty or grief–is harder to accept. But for all this, we have Jesus. Isn’t that what the incarnation is all about? Our God in Christ is involved! Not only does he know and understand but he meets our deepest needs. He feeds the hungry. He wipes the tears. He celebrates with us in love.