Giving Yourself at Christmas

One of my favorite stories at Christmas is from Robert J. Morgan:

All I needed was a little piece and quiet—just an hour or so.  Just a cup of coffee and time to think.  And just a quiet spot.  The fuss and flutter of the holidays had upset my schedule, and most of my tasks remained undone.  The Christmas cards weren’t in the mail; the gifts were unwrapped—most of them unpurchased—and holiday preparations at church were percolating.

Only careful, disciplined planning, I reasoned, would enable me to survive the season.

So I chose a little café that served European pastry and a variety of coffees.  Its atmosphere was quiet, with soft classical Christmas music in the background.  Patrons sat at bistro tables, reading novels or working on crossword puzzles.  Here, I thought, I can spread out my calendar, make my “to do” lists, sip my coffee, and schedule the milliseconds between now and December 25.

I only had an hour.

But I no sooner entered the café than I heard a familiar voice. An old friend, Dan Cronk, having little to do that morning, had decided to enjoy a pot of tea and a basket ofbreads.  There he stood, tray in hand, lookingwistfully,delighted to see me and obviously hoping I’d invute him to sit down.

I didn’t want him to join me, for he was a talker, about to rattle away for hours on hypothetical abstractions from his brilliant but rambling mind.

There he stood nonetheless.

“Well, hello Dan!” I said with a broad smile.  “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Didn’t have much goin’ on this morning, and I thought a pot of tea would cheer me up.  Meeting someone?”

“Well, no… Actually, I’m not…. Er … Want to join me?”

“Sure!”

And down he sat.

For the next hour I sat there, head nodding and stomach knotting, listening to him pour forth.  My planning calendar rested unopened on the table, and my blood pressure slowly increased in steady increments.  I silently cursed the impulse that had chosen that particular café on that particular day at that particular hour.

The hour passed, and I cleared my throat.  “Well, Dan, it’s been wonderful seeing you again.  I have to go now, but I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.”

He looked deeply into my eyes, and I noticed for the first time that his were soft, tender, vulnerable.  He smiled and reached his hand across the little table and laid it atop mine.

“I’m so glad we ran into each other today,”  he said quietly.  “Thanks for taking time for an old man.  I was feeling pretty blue this morning, and I guess I just needed a friend.  You know, sitting here with you has felt like… well, it’s been like pulling up to a blazing fire on a cold night.  I feel so… so warm now.  Thanks for letting me join you.”

That incident took place years ago, and Dan is now in heaven.  But I’ve thought of his words many times since.  They were so simple, yet the more I mull over them the more profound they seem.  I’m always tempted to allow the holiday to deteriorate into nothing more than jingling bells and jangled nerves.  Dan reminded me that Christmas isn’t decorations, deadlines, and dashing though the snow.  It’s a time for giving ourselves specifically, our time—to someone with greater needs than our own.  And we do it in honor of the Baby who did the same for us, the one called “Immanuel”—which means “God with us.”  (Matthew 1:23)

Time for friends and fellowship in Jesus’ name.

It’s like pulling up to a blazing fire on a cold and lonely night.

–         Robert J. Morgan  (More Real Stories For the Soul, pp. 157-160.)

An important reminder for us during this hectic time of year.

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