10And oppress not the widow or the fatherless, the temporary resident or the poor, and let none of you devise or imagine or think evil against his brother in your heart. - Zechariah 7:10 (AMP)
The ringing bells, the standard red bucket with a money slot and grinning bell bearer are a complete give away at this time of year. The Salvation Army is found on street corners, in front of big box stores and in any place that will permit them to catch spenders coming and going. It is a normal part, or at least has been, of the American Christmas Season.
“Doing The Most Good”. That is their tagline or motto, more clearly stated; it represents their mission in most simple terms. Do you know what is ironic about its humble beginnings? It was birthed out of controversy, in the Church. William Booth “walked the streets of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute”.
As a child, my grandma would take me to the Salvation Army Thrift Store. I loved it. It was so much fun. It was like walking into an enormous closest with not enough time to discover the secret treasures within. I can still remember the way it smelled and looked. I loved going through the costume jewelry and high heel shoes! But grandma was much more practical in what she would allow me to take home. Those are wonderful memories.
Not so wonderful are the times when we were in dire straits. Too often my mother found herself abandoned with three children and no idea how she was going to make it. Places like the Salvation Army are how we survived. They provided basic necessities like food and clothing. Would you like to know something? We were in the Church and had to go outside of our Church home for help. Why?
I remember one Christmas in particular. I was probably ten, my brother eight and my baby sister two. My mom’s husband had left, again. I remember seeing her cry when she didn’t know I was looking. She let me help wrap the meager presents she was able to get for us. She had purchased me one of those fake Barbie’s that came in a cellophane bag from a dollar store and I think my brother got some army men. She was doing the best that she could. I do remember the Pastor and his wife bringing over some wrapped packages that made it look so much more exciting under the tree.
On Christmas, I already knew that I was getting my “Barbie”, but I was really surprised at the other gifts that the Pastor’s family had brought over. I was particularly fond of this striped turtleneck that I unwrapped! I couldn’t wait until to Church so I could wear it. I cannot accurately display with words the kick in the gut I got when I arrived at Church and the Pastor’s daughter took me aside to inform me that I was wearing her brother’s hand me down turtleneck. Embarrassment doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Was the Church ministering to the needs?
We know Stephen as a precious martyr, before Saul’s conversion to Paul, taking a stand, preaching the Gospel with fervor and unshakable. Acts 7 But if you read Acts 6, you find that Stephen, a man full of faith and controlled by the Holy Spirit was chosen along with six others to attend to and look after the “business of serving tables and superintending the distribution of food”. Would you consider that, a “Prestigious Position”? Yet most today would turn up their nose if asked to do such a thing.
27External religious worship [religion as it is expressed in outward acts] that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world. – James 1:27 (AMP)
James describes to us what pure, unblemished external worship in the sight of God is.
Jesus himself in explanation to the Disciples says:
34Then the King will say to those at His right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father [you favored of God and appointed to eternal salvation], inherit (receive as your own) the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.35For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you brought Me together with yourselves and welcomed and entertained and lodged Me,36I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me with help and ministering care, I was in prison and you came to see Me.37Then the just and upright will answer Him, Lord, when did we see You hungry and gave You food, or thirsty and gave You something to drink?38And when did we see You a stranger and welcomed and entertained You, or naked and clothed You?39And when did we see You sick or in prison and came to visit You?40And the King will reply to them, Truly I tell you, in so far as you did it for one of the least [in the estimation of men] of these My brethren, you did it for Me. – Matthew 25: 34-40
Have you ever heard the term, “You are so Heavenly minded that you are no earthly good”? That is a question that requires deep introspection and a quiet place to let God really answer that for you.
The Gift of Jesus Christ Himself was presented in the most basic way. He left His throne to be likened to a man of flesh. Do you ever wonder why God didn’t just have Jesus come as a grown man to begin with? Why did He choose the path He chose? He came birthed as we were through a woman, childhood, young adult, manhood to growing through the same basic life cycles as we did to face an extraordinary sacrifice and death that we will never have to. A gift of love.
How can you feed a man spiritually and tell him of Heavenly things if you don’t first meet his earthly needs?
Maybe Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas; nonetheless, it is when an overwhelming majority of people world-wide celebrate a holiday that bears His name, CHRISTmas. Seize every opportunity to let your light shine in His name, for His Glory during this season.
Give the gift of love. Let the Lord lead you where He may. Call social services to see if you can drop groceries on someone’s doorstep in the middle of the night. Don’t tell everybody about your Angel Tree donation. Buy a giftcard and mail it to someone anonymously. Don’t just play Secret Santa at work, where you know you will get a gift in return. Go out of your way to be a blessing. And when you walk by that happy little bell-ringer, instead of stopping at the machine for a soda, drop that change in the little metal can and listen to the sound of your gift of love.