My friend Paul and I just delivered presents to our adopted homeless community the other night. I don't have the time or mental fortitude to turn it into an eloquent story. I'm just blessed. After all, Dylan said it best when he told the Rolling Stone, " 'Happy' is a yuppie word." Are you blessed or unblessed?
Paul mentioned earlier this week that he was having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit. He had not gone out and really shopped much, thanks to Amazon.com. In fact, the season just kinda crept up on him, without that youthful anticipation that gets our spirits pumped up for this great celebration day.
To be honest, I haven't gotten into the Christmas spirit in years. It's not exciting any more. There's a lot of stress, which on more than one occasion has broken out into a pretty turbulent time in our household. Dec. 25 is just another day for me. So, when people start preaching about the true meaning of Christmas and throw out cliches like "Jesus is the reason for the season," I just want to throw up.
I have come to acknowledge that putting Jesus first in this season has become just an excuse to buy someone an $80 study Bible that they may never open more than a few times per year. "It is better to give than to receive" has become, "I will give to those I expect to receive from." Giving out of obligation just makes me sad.
I apologize for the ranting, because that's not the point. We can all complain. We can all observe a problem and do nothing about it. I'm learning to be that change I want to see in the world.
Actually, the drop-off happened on Friday afternoon. We got off of work early and made our way downtown. I started praying as Paul was looking for a parking spot, near the riverside. He concluded the prayer with, "And Lord, let me not get a ticket for parking here." And he pulled up beside the exact place we needed to be, and parked illegally.
Earlier this week, we had met Steve (a homeless man) and his friends and then scoured the outskirts of Nashville, looking for a second-hand store, Salvation Army, Goodwill, or some place where we could find some cheap jackets and blankets. We found nothing. We thought that was defeat. Over the next few days, we were blessed to bring other people into this little mission through donations. The Lord was just teaching us dependence and bringing others along on the journey.
Right before driving into downtown Nashville, we counted what we had: it was almost exactly enough. Slightly more, actually. We brought them coats, blankets, hats, scarves, gloves, candy canes (yes, lots of candy canes), deodorant, Christmas ornaments, baby wipes, and a case of water. They were astonished and blessed beyond repair.
It took several trips to get it all down there, underneath the walkway. We met a few new characters. Their names were Barbara and Cheeseburger. They were new to the streets and confessed that they felt safer underneath a bridge than in a shelter or mission.
We both prayed for just a word to speak to them, and God gave us both something to say. I explained that we weren't there to preach at them, but that we wanted them to know that God loves them and has not abandoned them. They nodded with smiles and belief.
Paul explained that Jesus himself was born into filth and came to bring hope to the needy. I realized that George was, in fact, Jorge, and spoke Spanish. We conversed for several minutes, and I was delighted to put my college degree to good use.
Before we left, we took a list of things that they needed and said we'd be back in a week with what we could get. I asked if they had any families or anything for which we could be praying. They all said they did not. "Well," I said. "You do now."
Get into the Spirit and be about this holiday, forgetting the consumerism and reactionary churchy cliches. Be the change. Start by giving a gift that counts-- to the poor and needy who can not give back. I know you will be blessed. As my friend Paul says, Jesus was born into manure (quite literally, if you consider what kind of place in which you would find a manger).
Let's go into the slums, the junkyards, and mud pits of this world and find him.