Christmas season is a reflection season for me. In many ways the month of December is a review of the year: how have I done as a husband, father, friend, pastor, servant of the Master? It is also a time to consider that as the old year ends with all its joys and failures, it ends with the reminder that all things are made new in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17).
While much of the world is chasing after something either to put on the table to eat, or some pleasure to numb the emptiness and pain in their souls, or celebrating the season with filling their houses with more things, Christians are celebrating a God who loved us so much that He sent His Son in human form to live amongst us in order to reveal a holy, passionate, and merciful Heavenly Father. Jesus is our Hope: our hope of salvation, our hope of reconciliation with the Father we rebelled against, and our hope to become like Him. Truly, Christmas is a season awash with a message of hope.
This reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend and fellow language student in Paris some years ago. Alexander and his wife, Valerie, were both Ukrainian doctors who were being sent abroad by the Soviet government to earn hard currency to support the Communist government. My friends were being sent to work at an international hospital in French-speaking West Africa, while my wife and I were going to be serving at a Christian Academy in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), so we all needed to learn as much French as possible.
Alex and I would regularly have lunch together and practice our French. Often, we would bog down in French and have to resort to English to help each other out as we ordered food and asked questions of the local French food vendors. It must have seemed a bit strange to our French hosts to see two 25-year-old guys walking the streets of Paris together, one speaking French in an American accent and the other in a Russian accent. But I have found if it is strange, the French are used to it.
One day as Alex and I were ordering sandwiches from my favorite (meaning most economical) vendor, I noticed some Christmas decorations going up at a store near the university. I asked my friend, “What are your favorite Christmas customs?” and he immediately said, “Sweet breads and pudding that Grandma made.” His grandma would save money all year and stand in line for hours to get the sugar and other ingredients to make sweet breads and grain pudding to celebrate on Christmas Eve.
Seeing that he had a soft spot in his soul for his grandmother, I asked him, “What is the most meaningful thing she ever taught you?” He then shared with me a little Russian proverb that was either her favorite or what she was most passionate about. It went like this:
“Food is warmth, warmth is hope, and hope is victory!”
This short proverb got me to start thinking. Food and fellowship are hugely vital to the health and hope of the soul. Mealtime was a regular venue for Jesus to impact people’s lives and to teach truth that would transform His hearers.
How can I do better this year with giving away hope? When my children were little, we would often ask them what gift they would give Jesus for His birthday present. Sometimes they would memorize a scripture passage and recite it for Him on Christmas; other times they would give a gift away to someone less fortunate or do some other act of selfless serving. So, this week I started realizing, “What gift do I want to give Jesus this year?” And I believe it to be the gift of fellowship and food and tangible form of hope. That God would want me to spend more time eating with others and giving away hope. Not just give away food at a rescue mission or even just have a brief meal with a homeless person at Wendy’s, which are both good. It is to be deeper and more consistent. I believe my home needs to be a place where I invite new people from church or people whom I meet in my neighborhood and around Hemet and San Jacinto to eat and be encouraged. Having my home where a man like Zacchaeus could come eat and ask and learn about Jesus is exactly the gift I think my Savior would like from me this year. And if home doesn’t work as well as it should, then there has be a restaurant that we could break bread at to encourage one another and give hope.
Take time this Christmas season to reflect on who you were to those God put into your life in 2017. And then celebrate that all things are made new and ask God to show you how and to whom you can give warmth and hope in 2018. God bless you, my faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.