One of our family’s yearly Christmas traditions is to take the subway downtown and walk past Toronto’s Bay Street Christmas windows. Enclosed behind each pane is a cozy, festive miniature Christmas scene. One window might be a traditional Victorian home hosting a cheery Christmas Eve gathering, and the next window an old-fashioned small town with wrought iron streetlamps and cheerful carolers. And on they go. I love these windows, and each year, just for fun, I pretend that I get to choose which festive scene to step into for the night.
The truth is, as we walk through this life, there are windows all around us—scenes that, if our eyes are open and we’re ready, we can step inside.
Walk with me for a moment. Let me take you past two other Christmas windows.
What Will You Choose?
First window: a cozy living room, a crackling fire, and a mantle decorated with pine boughs and twinkle lights. Filling this room are pretty women and handsome men who are talking, laughing, clinking glasses, and enjoying each other’s friendship; smartly dressed children are playing games and sneaking chocolates.
Second window: a government-funded nursing home for low-functioning seniors; a stale-smelling lobby filled with people who are broken, hurting, and alone: an old, white-haired woman whose mind broke long ago is drooling, her head drooping, her eyes vacant, and beside her is an old man with two missing legs who is confined to a wheelchair.
Two scenes. And a choice.
If we could step into either scene, which would we choose? In the first, we’d be cozy and warm, merry and bright. In the second, we’d minister and serve; we’d spend and be spent.
As Christians, we’re looking to the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas time to lighten this world, but what if He lightens it through us?
What Is True Christmas Spirit?
The women in my church family are reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. A couple weeks ago, we studied the chapter “God Incarnate.” Appropriately, as we anticipated the approaching holiday season, we were reading about the incarnation of our Savior. Toward the end of our time together, one woman read aloud these words:
We talk glibly of the “Christmas spirit,” rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But . . . it ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.
My friend continued reading through a compelling description of how so many of us go through our lives seeing human need all around us, but avert our gazes, passing by on the other side.
That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians—alas, they are many—whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways. . . . The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor—spending and being spent—to enrich their fellow human beings, giving time, trouble, care, and concern, to do good to others—and not just their own friends—in whatever way there seems need.
Don’t those words just pierce the heart? Day after day we’re given that choice in so many different ways: Will I blend into the scene I find familiar, comfortable, enjoyable? Or will I walk into the darkness and bring light?
I have a friend who lives in that low-functioning seniors residence I described. I don’t visit her enough. I don’t write to her enough. I don’t call her enough. I don’t love her enough—the way Christ has loved me.
Cozy homes and close friends are good gifts, and God has not given us an either/or decision. Family, friends, and Christmas parties are gifts we can enjoy for God’s glory. But if our Christmas is full of festive brunches but devoid of those relationships that are hard, dark, and require humility and effort and carrying each other’s burdens, then we’re failing to be Christians who resemble our Savior.
We are to be His hands, His feet, His heart on this earth. We know this, we want to live this way, and yet we forget, don’t we? We forget, and we pursue our middle-class lives in our middle-class homes with our middle-class friends.
Seeking to Be Like Him
Far too often we live in that first scene, comfortable and warm, and forget to intentionally walk into those places that are cold and dark. Christ came to this broken, dark earth, and we are to seek to be like Him.
Sometimes the darkness feels overwhelming, and we don’t know what to do. We want to be used, but we don’t know how. We read the news, we look around and see a world with much lingering evil, we listen to the heartbreak of people we love, we see the vastness of what is broken, and we wonder how we can possibly be used to lighten the darkness. One pastor, Andrew Schep, gives direction with these words: “When the big picture seems hopeless, make the picture smaller. As small as the people nearby. Small enough to see a little pathway that leads to hope.”
We’re not called to bring light to the whole world; that was and will be done by Another. We’re called to love our neighbor.
It’s Christmas. It’s the season where Christians celebrate a Savior who gave up everything to come and dwell with broken people. Will I be like Him? Will you? Will we look and find those people in our family, our community, our church, our neighborhood who need love?
And when we see them, will we avert our gaze and keep walking? Or will we go to them and love them?