We do good things during the Christmas season. We shop at a Target store and drop a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle out front. We bring a few canned goods to the 4H dinner. We buy a pair of mittens for the mitten tree. We send a few extra dollars to the children we sponsor around the world. Sometimes we might ask ourselves, "It is such a small thing to do. Am I a fool thinking that it can make a difference?"
Where do we get the idea that compassionate acts - even seemingly insignificant ones - can have any impact? My guess is that it is bred into our spiritual DNA. We are children of God, whose Son Jesus became an impoverished infant, raised in a rural village. God is revealed in both the Old and New Testaments as a divine farmer, demonstrating that great results come from simple acts that are directed by his hand. The poor can be fed, the oppressed can be freed, and the dead can be raised through human efforts done in faith. God planted the seed of the kingdom of heaven in a stable warmed by the body heat of livestock. A newborn's cry echoed through the starry universe to proclaim that a new era was begun.
We live in a world plagued by sin at every turn, beginning with a glance in the mirror. Greed, violence, disease, poverty, loss of meaning: the list of reasons to despair is long. Yet. Yet Jesus came. "Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light," penned Phillips Brooks, depicting Bethlehem as a symbol of the world into which Jesus was born God chose the small, the humble, to begin the chain of events that would change the world.
During Advent, we often use words like hope, joy, peace, and love used in Christmas carols and greeting cards. These are not merely wishful notions that Christians use to stave off panic. God infuses them into our lives as real material for transformation. They are a way of naming the difference Jesus makes in our lives. Still, they remain abstract or na*ve if we don't ground them in the reality of God's presence in the world.
I encourage you to think more deeply about these words this holiday season. What difference does hope make? What does it look like when it is dressed in work clothes? How does joy change the way you move forward with a frightening diagnosis? Can the peace of Christ take over your outlook, as Paul mentioned more than once in his letters? (Phil. 4:7; Col. 3:15)
Hope does wear human clothing. Joy can overcome despair. Jesus came so that hope, joy, peace, and grace would describe your life and mine. We would have no reason to celebrate Christmas if Jesus didn't live among us and die for us in order to have this kind of life. He has put his Spirit in us as an organic source of hope and joy. It is Jesus' compassion that flows through us, so that we do believe our compassionate gestures - on any scale - make a difference in a world where God is present.
What difference does it make that Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph? The answer lies in the life of every follower of Jesus. The answer lies in you.