“…That all the world should be registered.” -Luke 2:1
“All the world” is an interesting concept. In fact, “all the world” was only the known world to Emperor Augustus or, at least, his occupied and conquered world. Even to our modern ear during a global pandemic, “all the world” may be going through COVID-19 together, but it is basically only experienced locally. World events do impact our lives, mostly to the extent that we experience it in our neighborhood. Even then, our personal experience can be, and usually is, different from even the person who lives next door.
As we begin to celebrate Christmas this year and as we have been going through this pandemic together, it is important to be reminded of all our varied experiences. Now, this diversity of experience is really nothing new, as Luke 2:7 points out that Mary “placed Jesus in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” This means that while some people did experience a nice night at the inn, others, such as Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, did not.
While we might wonder why there is no room for Him in the inn, Joseph, Mary and Jesus simply remind us of the disparity of our experiences. There were some who woke the next morning having no idea that a family spent the night in the stable, much less a family who had their first-born child delivered there.
This Christmas has the potential to be the most varied experience of any of our past Christmases. For some, it may be a bounteous and excessive day because of all the overtime work that was required during this season. Others may be experiencing their most humble and sparse Christmas yet because they have been out of work for months. Some will have a house full of family, while others are cloistered in their assisted living quarters. Even in our modern world, Mary “placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” has meaning and can connect with our experience.
An understanding from the lowly estate of Jesus’ birth is that God is not bound by our expectations or limitations to do great and marvelous things. We can take heart that, regardless of our circumstances, God is with us and understands our plight. No matter the meagerness of our circumstances, it does not have to alter the trajectory of life. It is only a moment in our lives.
As in Luke 2:8, “in that region there were shepherds living in the fields…,” we too can become messengers of good tidings and joy to those in our community. It will only require a couple of actions from us.
First, take time to listen. Because of the varied experiences around us, we can take the initiative not to tell our story but to listen to others share their stories. Just the feelings that come with being truly heard can be enough to make the difference in someone’s life. Being a messenger of good news can sometimes be achieved just by listening.
Second, care for others, especially if it costs you something. How many times have you heard yourself say, “Let me know if you need any help,” but help was never asked for or given. Sometimes help is obvious and all that’s needed is a question: “Can I mow your yard? Can I bring over a meal? Can I walk the dog? Can I watch your children?” By being specific in your offer of help, you can really show that you have listened and truly care.
Our care can come from our passion and generous spirit. A real-estate agent, who has a heart for those in active military service because of his memories of being an Army brat, wanted to show he cared. So he drove to a small military town close to his community for the purpose of giving away $5,000 in cash. He stood in front of the local Walmart® and offered a twenty-dollar bill to every military family who entered the store. “I just want to show military families who fight for our freedom and make possible our way of life that we care,” he said.
This Christmas may be different from any other because of the pandemic that distresses “all the world.” Yet in our local setting, we can make all the difference by listening and caring for those nearest to us. No matter your circumstances, have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.
Rev. David Atkinson, Senior Pastor
Collierville United Methodist Church