Luke 2:10 - And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
It's taken more than a decade, but I've finally done it. To the best of my knowledge I've beaten the stores to the celebration of Christmas.
For me one of the great traditions of Christmas is the Salvation Army bell-ringers. Since I've become an adult, every time I see a bell-ringer I assess how they do their work. There are those who ring in slow motion, and those who ring away as if they'd had way too much caffeine. There are bell-ringers who say, "Happy Holidays!" and those who still wish me a "Blessed Christmas!" There are those who greet shoppers in a mechanical way, and those whose smile brightens up the day of everyone who passes by. One year I saw a bell-ringer who didn't say much, he just kept up a beautiful, continuous medley of Christmas songs. I listened to him for half an hour, and he never repeated the same carol. Beautiful voice. I wanted to ask him to join my church choir.
Last year I had the opportunity to visit with a master bell-ringer. Without missing a beat on his bell, he was able to say something special to everyone. When someone looked worn down, he turned up the temperature of his smile and gave them a special, a sincerely warm, holiday wish. If an elderly woman walked by, he would say something like, "Merry Christmas, young lady!" And the way he said it didn't seem snide or sarcastic. On the contrary, every one of those "young ladies" giggled, smiled, and blushed. He bent down to talk to little children and, for some reason, not a single child cried or hid behind their moms.
Intrigued, I went from watching the bell-ringer to talking with him. I asked, "Can you tell when someone is going to put something in the kettle?"
He said, "About 90 percent of the time. It all depends on whether they look you in the eye or not."
Next, I asked, "Aren't you afraid of some negative fallout when you wish people a Merry Christmas? Aren't you afraid of offending someone?"
He laughed at that question. He was still laughing when he replied, "You're asking if I should keep Christ in Christmas. Sir, (that's what he called me, 'sir') Christ is Christmas, I couldn't take Jesus out of Christmas if I wanted."
When I asked him to explain he said something like this:
"Look at the people coming into this store. I don't know them; I don't know anything about them, but I do know this: some of them are worried about their children and grandchildren. This last year some of them have lost their jobs; some may lose their homes. Some of them have just had an argument with their husband or wife. Some of the children got picked on at school, and some didn't get invited to a party where everyone else is going. Some of the teenage girls think they're ugly, and more than a few boys feel no one is ever going to love them. The old folks are worried about their health and whether they have enough money set aside for Christmas and whether they're going to be able to keep living at home. Some have a loved one serving overseas in the military, and others are just down in the dumps.
"I look at faces all day, and I see people who are busy and tired and confused, frustrated, angry, and hurting. I know some are bothered about things they've done, and a few are sad about things they haven't done or wished they had done. I'm just a bell-ringer, but when I'm here I ask my Savior Jesus to give me the right words to say that might make a difference -- just a little difference -- to these folks who walk on by. Mister, you asked me about keeping Christ in Christmas? What I see standing here are a lot folks with a lot of hopes and fears. Their hopes and fears are always going to keep Jesus in Christmas."
Back in the car I wrote down the really important thing he had taught me. Did you hear it? He said, people's "hopes and fears are always going to keep Jesus in Christmas." He was right, you know. The angel knew that the night Jesus was born. You know it, too. Which is why, almost four months early, I wish you a blessed celebration of the Savior.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, Jesus took my sins and asked me to give Him my worries and concerns. The only thing more I could ask would be for Him to give me forgiveness and eternal life ... and He has done that, too. May I always be thankful. In His Name. Amen.
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