As we enter the closing weeks of this year, let’s take a moment to move from our study of Acts. Considering the season we entered next Thursday, I think it good that we take a brief respite from the study of the Early Church and examine the topic of how Christians can touch deep into the heart of a part of our community that is often overlooked during the Holiday Season. Does that have your curiosity up? Then let’s begin by reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 25:32-46.
Most readers will agree that we are entering a time of the year that, despite the drop in temperature and the graying of the mountains, hearts become a bit lighter and our thoughts drift back to those nostalgic “good ‘ol days.” Of course this is not true of all folks entering this season with us. This brings us the point of our lesson. Those of us whose hearts are lifted, need to encourage those who struggle through this season. Some people experience a great deal of loneliness and sadness during the Thanksgiving/ Christmas holiday. People, who have lost loved ones or have become the newest member of the empty nest society, often struggle as they seek those glad tidings of great joy that they hear about and may even have experienced at one time or another.
Perhaps one of my most productive learning curves came when I was invited by a church member, who worked for Hospice, to join in leading a seminar entitle “Grieving Through the Holidays.” Over the next two years I discovered that all is not good for every person I meet on the street, talk to in the store, or minister to in my congregation. Often, more than a “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Merry Christmas” these folks need hug, a listening ear, or maybe even some room to grieve without a well intended well-wishers to try to “get them out of their funk.”
From Matthew 25:32-46, we learn that there are some actions that mark a genuine Christian as a genuine Christian. Surprisingly, Jesus makes no mention of praying or Bible reading or Sunday school attendance in His list. Not that these things are not important. All the aforementioned activities are vital for the continuing growth of the believer. But, God also knows that anyone can pray, people of all religions do; anyone can read the Bible and according to the Gideons and Gallop many do; anyone can go to a place of worship. But Jesus also knows that only genuine Christians can love like God loves.
God’s love is described by the Greek word agapaho or agape. This word describes a selfless, self-giving love and is the word used of how God loves us. It is a love that does not take into account the personal cost that may come as one extends or demonstrates this kind of love toward another. When Jesus said that “God so loved the world that He gave” He knew that that act of giving meant His Son’s death on the cross. This is the type of unselfish giving that Christians need to show to those around them.
How can we tie agape to the opening comments of today’s lesson? As we move deeper into the season lights and cheer, our first act of agape is to realize that for some, perhaps many, around us it is a season of darkness and tears. For the first time, or the tenth, some are facing a season ripe with family tradition without the family, or at least without that significant person or persons in their life. With such in mind what type of meaningful gift can a Christian give to these hurting people? Here are just a few gifts that will probably be well-received and deeply appreciated:
1. Rather that trying to make them laugh or helping them “forget for a while,” allow the person to be sad. They really see nothing to laugh about and forgetting seems to be the same as abandoning.
2. Don’t insist they come out of their cocoon by compelling them come to dinner or a party or anywhere for that matter. Now by all means invite, just don’t insist. The individual may know that they are not ready to face alone what they used to do with the one now gone. Keep in mind, the cocoon is comfortable for a time and over time, and with gentle persuasion, they will come out.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk about the loved one who is gone and don’t be afraid of the tears that may flow.
4. Don’t insist that the person keep the same traditions. It may be more comfortable for them to change they way have things have always been done. The change may not be permanent but may be necessary to get through this year.
5. Don’t be afraid of practicing or mentioning old traditions or those wonderful memories left by the one now absent. Good memories will no doubt be sad but they are not to be feared, they are not the enemy. However, don’t force the issue; the one who is sad will talk when they are ready.
Most Christians tend to be rescuers. Perhaps this stems from the fact the Jesus has rescued us from the ultimate of peril - eternal separation from God in a really terrible place Jesus called Hell. But we must remember that many times our grieving families and friends do not needed rescued, they simply need someone to quietly sit by them. They need someone who will not think it odd or a red flag for them for laughing one minute and crying the next. This Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Years season, let’s give a wonderful gift to those struggling just to make it through the holiday; let’s stand with them expressing the love of Jesus by helping them carry the load.