One of my favorite Christmas memories is also one of my hardest. Suffering with cancer, my mom lived four hours away from our home in Maine. That winter and fall I drove back and forth twice a month.
It would have been impossible without the kindness of strangers. You see, my mom lived in a cottage at the Willimantic Camp Meeting Association, a historic Christian community in Connecticut. Her neighbors, who were away, offered my family the free use of their house.
Without knowing me, they showed my mom where they kept their key. We were invited to use anything we found – food in the pantry, the washer and drier, toys in the cupboard, even Cable TV. The arrangement allowed me to be near my mom while also being out of her way so that she could continue to work and rest.
It was a rest for me too, curling up in her friends’ cozy Lazy Boy at the end of the day, reading a calming book or enjoying a Christmas special on TV with a cup of hot cocoa. Through the front porch window, the bright lights of the neighbors’ Christmas tree brought beauty to what would have otherwise been a very gloomy season. When I later mailed my hosts a check to help with the heat, they mailed it back.
Such radical hospitality brought God’s light into my darkness. During this second week of Advent, I think of another exhausted traveler, Mary. After arriving in Bethlehem, she laid the newborn Christ in a trough for animals because “there was no place for them” in any of the houses to rent a room (Luke 2:7 NRSV). Far from the cutesy barns portrayed in many Christmas books, this was most likely a hillside cave. Damp. Cold. Dirty.
Many people today are without adequate shelter. Rather than drop a load of cash on the latest tech gadget this Christmas, consider giving the same money to a charitable organization housing those in need. Invite someone over who is alone or away from home. Begin a new friendship, making room in your schedule and circle of friends for someone shut out in the cold.
In the midst of great need is great opportunity. Take a good look at the blessings you have received. “To whom much has been given, much will be required,” Jesus says in Luke 12:48. Never in the history of the world has a society lived in such comfort and security and wealth as the United States of America.
Things we take for granted – running water, electricity, safe transportation, free education – others risk their lives to attain. Scripture says that whoever is kind to the poor lends to God (Proverbs 19:17). There is not one of us so poor that we cannot share the gift of friendship.
Meadow Rue Merrill writes and reflects on God’s presence in her everyday life from a little house in the big woods of Mid-coast Maine. Her memoir, “Redeeming Ruth,” releases in May 2017.