"There were sheep herders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.” – Luke 2:8-11
My daddy loved newspapers when I was growing up and he subscribed to several: The Miami Herald, The Miami News, The Pittsburgh Courier. But I loved the Miami Herald because it featured what we kids called “the funny paper,” better known as the comic strips.
My favorite comic strips were Blondie and Dagwood, Beetle Bailey, Dick Tracy, and Dennis the Menace. But there was another comic strip, Lil’ Abner, which featured a tall and strong young man who wore bib overalls. And Lil’ Abner had a friend named Joe. Joe was jinxed. He was so jinxed that he had a dark cloud over his head all the time.
Everywhere he went, he was a magnet for mess and misery. Joe always seemed to be a misfit and a mismatch, mad, miserable and moody. And what made that situation even more depressing was the fact that anyone who hung around Joe was also affected by the dark cloud. Joe was a magnet for misery! He never had any good news!
I learned from that cartoon a very valuable lesson, that our attitudes and actions get adjusted to accommodate whatever and whoever we’ve been exposed to. Little joy may have come to you in 2013, until now. People have been scampering around for what they can receive, until now.
The focus this year has been on affordable healthcare and government, until now. People have been careful to watch how much and how far they drive because of gas prices, until now. People have been trying to save money, cut corners, make ends meet, all until now. It’s been a tough, rough year, until now. And, now, almost suddenly, attitudes and activities change, because of the spirit of giving.
The spirit of unity amongst family and friends is contagious. It’s the Christmas season. What a refreshing spirit! Smiles are replacing frowns.
Handshakes are replacing finger-pointing; hugs are replacing shrugs; sharp colors of red and green replace the dullness of the gray and dismal skies. People are sacrificing to give gifts even when they can’t afford to give. Many, if they have any money, are making sure they have more to give than to receive. What a spirit!
But this spirit seems to lasts only about 30 days, from the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, to the first day the kids go back to school. It’s a beautiful season with a beautiful aura and spirit. All peoples, places, the privileged and the poor participate in the holidays. All cultures, conditions, colors collaborate.
It’s Christmas. It’s characteristic to give, to be warm, friendly, to be nice, to speak softly, eat and relax and spend quality time with those we love. Our attitudes are adjusted to accommodate what we’ve been exposed to. These are the characteristics of Christmas.
There’s the smell of pines, the jingly music, the smell of food, the lights, the hustle and bustle of shopping, the excitement of giving and receiving. But we also focus on the biblical characters of Christmas. There’s the mother of Jesus, Mary; the earthly father of Jesus, Joseph; and there are the people in the inn. There are also King Herod and the politicians. There are the angels and there are the shepherds.
Now, of all the characters of Christmas, according to Dr. Robert Leroe, based on his research, most people identify with the shepherds more than any others connected to Jesus’ birth. Most people, in Leroe’s research, could not identify easily with the wise men, with Joseph or with Mary, for that matter. But the majority of people could relate to and identify with the shepherds.
You see, the shepherds were a working bunch. Their work was dirty and hard, like those who work today as landscapers, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, domestics, garbage collectors, nurses, service employees, community people and teachers.
Like many of the people who enjoy Christmas, there are some now who are parked in poverty pockets and gathered in violence-ridden neighborhoods.
Many who enjoy Christmas belong to an auxiliary of humanity which Howard Thurman describes as the “Disinherited.” Some are culturally deprived and socially disadvantaged. Some are under-fed and under-housed. Some belong to the fraternity of the foreclosed, the union of the unemployed. Many are stuck in park, not going in reverse or forward.
But this season carries good news. And the good news is that, even during this season of distress and depression, Christ is available to all. The angel gave the good news to the shepherds who seemed stuck in a destitution and said this gift of life was for them. It was personal. “Unto you,” it’s powerful, “It’s a Savior,” and it’s profound. “He is the Lord!”
The greater news is that this gift is free. Jesus is the perfect gift, a personal gift, a precious gift, a pleasing, practical and permanent gift. Talk about affordable and accessible: There’s nobody greater than Jesus.
*Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. He may be contacted at wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net. Website: WTRMinistries.com