It’s the time of year when people begin to look for Christmas. Not the day on the December calendar but the spirit, the essence, the heart of Christmas. And more often than not, Christmas has a way of finding us.
Out of the blue someone you would least expect is especially generous and you think to yourself, “Now that’s the spirit of Christmas.” Or you’re flipping through the channels and you discover some people singing about “the most wonderful time of the year.” Your mind wanders to childhood and family and those rare times when everything seemed to be good, and for a moment you are at peace. Even the hardest of hearts thaw in the presence of Christmas.
I ran into Christmas in a checkout line a few years ago.
It was a Wednesday night the week before the Big Day. I left the church for home around 10:30 p.m. and on the dashboard was the note I had stuck there that morning. COFFEE!!! it read. If I wanted a tasty, hot beverage for breakfast, I would have to make a stop.
The night was cold and damp, typical for December in Richmond. The grocery store sparkled as I picked up a pound of coffee and headed for the express lane. The line was eleven people long―do you ever wonder why they call it “express?”
After a few minutes of waiting, I said to the person in front of me, “I can’t believe so many people shop late at night.” “I know,” a young woman’s voice replied, “and everyone seems to be in such a hurry.”
My guess was she couldn’t have been older than sixteen. She was balancing a baby on her hip. Her eyes were bright. His nose was runny.
“What’s his name?” I asked her. “Jerome. He’s fourteen months.” I smiled at him. He smiled back and reached out a hand, grabbing hold of my index finger. When I introduced myself, the teenage mother responded, “Nice to meet you. I’m Mary.”
I watched Mary mother her son as the line inched toward the cash register. She unzipped his jumper; she wiped his nose; she shifted him this way and that, humming a song in his ear. “We’ll be home soon. Yes we will!” she told him cheerfully. I got the feeling she wasn’t so much comforting him as reassuring herself.
“How can a teenager raise a child these days?” I wondered. Or any day?
There was a Christmas tree with blinking lights by the entrance. The baggers had on Santa hats. I paid for the coffee and headed for the door.
Outside, I looked around for Mary and her son. On the far side of the parking lot she was walking toward a cluster of apartments, balancing her baby in one arm, the groceries in the other.
That’s when it hit me. The Maker of heaven and earth wanted to get my attention so badly that God became human―not some superhero, swooping down from the sky, but a helpless infant entrusted to a teenage mother. My eyes filled with tears.
As we inch toward Christmas, this same God is trying to get your attention to say, “I care about you. I want the best for you. I’m on your side.”
So keep your eyes open for the spirit of Christmas. It will find you in the next few days, and when it stops you in your tracks, remember: It’s God who is tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “I care about you. I want the best for you. I’m on your side.”