Friday, January 3, 2014

The Least of Christmas

As the New Year's Nor'easter of 2014 blows into my backyard, I sit here in front of the fireplace, warming my toes, sipping my 4th mug of hot cocoa, tea, or coffee, watching the 5th DVD of the 6th season of NCIS. The last load of laundry is in the dryer, and NECN is forecasting a foot of light powder by morning. 

In the meantime, the birds are staying close, patiently waiting for their supplier to fill the feeders once more before dark. Much to their delight, the neighborhood cat, who frequently joins them, is nowhere to be seen. He's probably curled up in front of his own fireplace.

This storm has added two days to the Christmas school break, which some kids will spend at the mall, or on the slopes, or helping Mom pack away the decorations for another year. Some may even work on the history report that was due today, but is now (PHEW!) not due until Monday. For students, an unexpected Christmas gift... from above. For parents, well … Monday's coming.

This Christmas was different from the last 17 the Kincaids have celebrated in this house. In years past, we would bring the decorations down from the attic over Thanksgiving weekend. The tree would come home no later than my birthday. Everything would be wrapped, baked, and blinking or jingling by December 15th. Mannheim Steamroller would ring through the house, and movie classics like It's A Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and A Christmas Carol would be 'must-see's on TV.

But like I said, this year was different.

Back in November, I started working at a local faith-based rescue mission. My job has nothing to do directly with any of the Thanksgiving or Christmas programs offered at the mission, but the atmosphere throughout the place is filled with the humility and gratitude of this unique season. For the residents at the mission, this was a "different" Christmas, too. A sober Christmas, a clean Christmas, a clothed Christmas, a warm, indoor Christmas, a polite, kind, gracious Christmas. The Christmases they've known in the past may have been more like the First Christmas... minus the Heavenly Host.

This year, I found myself thinking about that First Christmas: 
  • Not about whether Jesus was really born in December or April, 
  • Not about whether Yule logs and candles were adapted from pagan practices, 
  • Not about whether birthday celebrations are mere pride or vanity. 
I found myself thinking about - 
  • that night when He was born in a stable in Bethlehem, 
  • that night when The Father sent out a birth announcement that lit up the sky and was symphonically delivered by no less than the Host of Heaven, 
  • that night when socially-outcast shepherds were specially honored as the very first to hear the good news .
But that night, back in the City of David, nothing really changed. Downtown buzzed with activity surrounding the census and with normal city life: dogs foraged, back-alley tempers flared, beggars demanded hand-outs, and the homeless huddled together around a common fire. 

Street people were just as ignored and demeaned as they were any other night, but that night, there were hundreds more in town to abuse them, to step over them, to step on them, to throw verbal barbs and garbage at them. That night, life was no different for them, … just worse. Still...

Who's to say that some of them hadn't found a place to sleep behind the inn?
 Who's to say that they didn't follow the shepherds into the stable?
Who's to say that they weren't miraculously drawn in by the Baby?
Who's to say that they didn't recognize the tender, maternal love of Mary?
Who's to say that they didn't sense the strength and integrity of Joseph?

Who's to say that that night wasn't the night that would change everything for them, the least of humanity? That night was different after all, and somehow these "least of " people knew that they too were now "different" as well.

For the guys at the mission, this was the First Different Christmas … of many. 

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