by Saron Hand
It’s difficult to imagine Advent and Christmas being difficult times for anyone. How could it be? There are trees to decorate and dinners to plan, beautiful candlelit worship services to attend and breathtaking hymns to sing, sung to ancient tunes. How could anyone be sad as we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s birth? For many, though, even in the midst of a crescendo of festivity and blessings, there are those among us who are hurting. We needn’t look too far to find these suffering people either. They are ushers and elders and Sunday School teachers. They are the people who sit beside you every Sunday morning.
Sharing Christ’s mercy
As Christian brothers and sisters, we are charged with reaching the lost and caring for all. That’s as simple as turning to the person beside you, but often our idea of reaching the lost is thought of only in terms of those outside our church doors. These outward missions are commendable, but they should not come at the neglect of those immediately around us. So, what to do?
In Zephaniah, our Lord promises to send one into our midst who will save us, one who will “gather the outcast” and bring us in. The one who is promised is Christ, and the time of His coming is now as we prepare ourselves to celebrate His incarnation. We can and should quite literally gather up our suffering neighbors and bring them in, not out of pity but out of love and a desire to share with them and remind them of the Gospel. Advent and Christmas provide an opportunity to:
- remind those suffering of God’s pure grace and His desire for them to be His,
- comfort them in the knowledge that our Lord’s love is so profound that He sent His Son, a baby born in Bethlehem, to grow and fulfill God’s ultimate promise and
- give thanks that He died on a cross to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
Fervent love toward one another
Each week when we attend the Divine Service, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbor. We confess our sins, receive absolution and eat and drink of our Lord’s body and blood. After Communion, we thank God for His gifts of salvation and that through those gifts we are strengthened not only in faith toward Him but in our love for our neighbor. God calls us in; He feeds us and reaffirms His love for us. He does this that we may care for one another. Having received everything we need from Him in Word and Sacrament, we can’t help but desire to share His gifts through our various talents with those who need them.
Some love to cook and feed people. They are happiest when their homes are full of delicious smells and hungry bellies gathered around their table. This includes the widow who comes to brunch Sunday afternoon or the college student far from home and family who is welcomed to supper and included as one of the family as they decorate their Christmas tree.
If the thought of opening your home and cooking large meals gives you hives, fear not! There are numerous other ways to be in service to your neighbors. An invitation to have a cup of coffee and some conversation may lift the spirits of one who feels alone and lost in the shuffle of the busy holidays. Or offer to sit beside someone who usually sits alone Sunday morning. When all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask, “How can I help you? You are special to our Lord and to me. He has not forgotten you and neither have I.”
It can be so frustrating to turn on the news day after day and see that there is so much suffering happening in the world. It’s easy to feel powerlessness, that there is nothing that you can do to impact any of it. Yet there are those just an arms’ reach away in need of your love and compassion, whether it comes in the form of a home cooked meal or a reassuring arm around a shoulder. We’ve been given all the tools we need in Word and Sacrament to go out and show Christ’s love to our neighbors. This Advent and Christmas, let’s get to it!
Saron Hand is an LCMS wife and mother residing in Delaware.