“Oh by the way, don’t forget to extend hospitality to strangers, foreigners or sojourners because they just might be angels.” That is my translation of Hebrews 13:2. Some call them “divine appointments,” encountering a stranger at just the exact time for God to do something marvelous. An angel is a heavenly agent, a messenger with a divine mission to accomplish. The writer of Hebrews is reminding us to open our eyes and hearts and homes to the people around us, for God could be using them for a great purpose. How many strangers do we encounter over the course of a week?
The book “Where Strangers Cross” tells the modern journey of a man from rural China, where they never spoke of Christ, who finds himself at a Christian university in Oklahoma. Later he encounters a Christian sojourner from suburban America, and together these men create a ministry to international students. Soon God has Jiang Long plant a church in Tulsa and sends Kevin Avery* as a language missionary to China, where he visited the very region of Long’s youth. God’s messengers are like that. They provide a glimpse of God at work, a call from God in a life, and message of Good News for us to proclaim.
As Christmas Day comes and goes this year, this all brings to mind the story of angels and the shepherds, who listened to their words, went to the stable then told everyone they met the wonders of God’s love. “Go, tell it on the mountain,” the carol sings, “over the hills and every where; Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born!”
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Say “Hello” to an angel. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
* Kevin Avery is our son-in-law and now resides in Waco, Texas, where he ministers as a hospice chaplain, husband to Dayna and father to Molly and Hudson. “Where Strangers Cross: East Meets West on a Journey Towards Christ” can be ordered through Barnes and Noble Bookstores or Amazon.com.
Growing up, I was blessed with parents who taught me the differences between the three Christmases. Foremost is the Christmas of Faith. This is the religious Christmas that tells the Good News of God loving the world so much that He “became flesh and dwelt among us.” It is the biblical story of Mary and Joseph, angels and kings, shepherds and a baby who was called Jesus. It is the story of light coming into a world of darkness, of God’s Son born in a smelly stable, and humble people discovering the majesty of God’s grace. This is the Christmas of faithful believers—a holy day.
My parents also talked about what I call the Christmas of Sentimentalism. This is the secular Christmas. This is the Christmas of Santa and reindeers, snowmen and Scrooges, jingle bells and eggnog parties. Growing up in South Florida, we did not have a chimney, so we learned that Santa had to come in through the front door. This is the Christmas of the movies like “The Miracle on 34th Street” and TV shows like “Frosty the Snowman.” This is the Christmas of wistful songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Blue Christmas,” or comical songs like “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” This is the Christmas of our culture—a holiday.
The other Christmas, I learned, is the Christmas of Commercialism. This is the Christmas of money and more stuff. This is the Christmas of Black Fridays and now Cyber Mondays. This is the Christmas of “What do you want this year?” and “I just have to have . . .” This is the Christmas of “give and get,” of neighbors competing for the most decorated house, and debt and guilt for not buying/consuming/giving more presents. The three Christmases overlap and sometimes get so intertwined that the whole point of the Advent Season is lost altogether. That’s why people fight over words like “Christmas” versus “Holiday.” They do not know what they mean.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Tell the Good News. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” says the flustered Wizard of Oz, as he tries to hide his whiz-bang technology. But to no avail. The truth of his trickery is revealed. I thought of that scene this past week as the latest “WikiLeaks” were published for the entire world to see. The electronic correspondence of hundreds of thousands of private, secret and top-secret State Department documents were revealed. For some this borders on treason; for others it is a call for more freedom of information. Throw in a sex scandal and a mountain fortress and the movie version is headed toward a television near you.
We live in an age where private acts and unguarded moments will live on forever. When nearly everyone in the world has a camera/video recorder/computer/telephone in their pocket, anyone can become a news reporter or private eye. Things once spoken or written for a specific audience are now saved on computers in “the clouds,” even after they have been deleted. The lines between privacy and security are becoming very blurred. That is one reason why there is so much fuss about going through airport security x-ray vision machines or extremely personal pat-downs. We have entered a time when we are exposed to too much personal information about too many people. All of this information can then be manipulated and used for other purposes. (Why do I know so much about Lindsay Lohan?)
Jesus once reminded His followers: “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight” (Luke 12:1-4). So how then should we live? Jesus is encouraging us to be people of integrity, honesty and truthfulness. He warns us not to become hypocrites. Two things my great-grandmother used to say relate to this: “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say it,” and “Be sure your sins will find you out.” Things got better in Oz when the curtain was removed and the wizard faced the world humbled and flawed.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Look behind your curtain. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
Always on the Monday after Thanksgiving, a Christmas card from the same person has arrived at our house. For over 40 years now it has been right on time. Guess what that person must do over the Thanksgiving holiday to have those cards in the mail and traveling across state lines to arrive on time. I really do appreciate the card and the effort behind it. There is a part of me, though, that starts to believe we are now already too far behind to ever get our Christmas letter written, much less stamped and mailed before December 25. Yes, I said Christmas letter.
We have sent Christmas cards over the years, but mostly we send a letter reviewing and reflecting on the year. Sometimes we just have to enclose a picture. Christmas letters are much maligned and ridiculed by pundits and humorists. My theory is they are just jealous of those who lead magical lives with extraordinarily talented children and the most adorably brilliant grandchildren on the planet. But receiving a Christmas card or letter in the mail is starting to become less common. If the people on your Christmas card list have an e-mail address, click, everyone just received a personalized e-Christmas Card. The same thing happens with the Christmas letter, plus you can attach as many pictures as you want.
What is the point of a Christmas card or letter? For us it has become a way to share a glimpse of our lives with dear friends and relatives, some of whom we have not seen in years. It becomes a touch-point of our lives to theirs. Addressing the envelopes gives us time to remember the earlier days and offer up a prayer for them today. We have kept years of received Christmas cards and letters, bound together and stored. When someone has had a dramatic change of life circumstances we can go back and reflect with them. How sweet those cards become after our friends or loved ones have passed away. So it is time to start addressing this year’s envelopes. Or do we click it?
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Touch someone with a card or note. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.