I went to a Christmas party the other evening. Like most seasonal soirees, the food was tasty and plentiful. The conversation was lively, engulfed in laughter.
But, there wasn’t a drop of alcohol to wet the yuletide whistle. It was alcohol, or some other judgement-altering chemical concoction, that got half the party there in the first place.
These were offenders who had been released and needed something more to make it to recovery and restoration. The other half of the guest list were those from the outside who bought into redemption and ran a couple of residential programs so that belief might become reality.
We had chipped in to get the residents some simple Christmas gifts. These were small, but our designated shoppers compensated by putting in the time to find things that felt personal and pleasing.
For an hour or so, it was like Christmas morning when the kids were young. As they opened presents, some would tear through the wrapping with unchecked fervor. Others would slowly remove ribbon and paper, prolonging the pleasure of having but not knowing.
One woman jumped up and down, gleefully screaming when she opened a CD — not a hot, new album, but music for healing and wholeness.
Another, more reserved, broke into tears when she found a pair of pajamas in her bag — not silk or satin lingerie, just soft winter PJs.
One burly guy, a big baseball fan, excitedly kicked off his sneakers to put on his new Cardinal-logo house slippers, which he sported the rest of the evening.
Another man got a zipper-cased Bible and managed only a whispered “thank you.” You might have questioned his gratitude, unless you saw him later, sitting alone, thumbing through his gift.
After the last present, the tables turned. Residents suddenly appeared with tiny bags. Each one contained an ornament, a globe of clear glass, which they had hand-painted, decorated, and stuffed with color.
Half the joy of their getting was in giving back.
The bright eyes and broad smiles were genuine, but they couldn’t hide years of abuse, addiction and bad decisions. I wondered when they last had a Christmas like this.
A cold night, poor parents, a backwater town and a helpless child. That first Christmas didn’t start out too well, either, but it became a feast of hope and a source of dignity.
Two thousand years later, we find God still prefers to work through the ordinary means of flesh and blood.