A friend of mine helps to coordinate a local outreach called “Timothy Christmas,” which I’ve heard a lot about over the three years we’ve lived in our little town but hadn’t ever bothered to ask anyone about. I knew that toys were collected by the kids in our church, and I knew that our Sunday school sponsored a local family who otherwise wouldn’t have a Christmas, and that we took the family Christmas shopping and gave them food. That sounds pretty straightforward, right? What else is there to know?
Well, I was talking with my friend on Monday night about this and how she got involved in this outreach more than twenty years ago. It’s a story worth retelling, and it actually begins a year before Timothy Christmas was started. That year, a few days before Christmas, my friend suddenly found herself to be a single mother with two little girls. To the outside world, she looked fine–she had a house, she had food, she had her kids. But there wasn’t any money left for Christmas. She went to the Christmas Eve service at church and knew that afterwards she’d be going back to an empty house without gifts for her girls. But when she came out of church that night, she found an envelope on her car. Inside that envelope was fifty dollars. That anonymous gift of fifty dollars–to this day she doesn’t know who left it for her–provided Christmas in a way she hadn’t expected.
The next year, Timothy Christmas was started for local families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to celebrate, and it focused primarily on children by asking children who did have lots of toys and Christmas gifts to select one of value to give to a child who had nothing. The outreach has grown from there, and now provides gifts and food to a significant number of families.
And there are more every year.
A few days ago the main headline at CNN was called “Hungry at the Holidays,” and since I so rarely see news stories worth reading, I couldn’t help but click on it. It mentioned a food ministry on Long Island that offers turkeys and other food items to poverty-stricken families on Thanksgiving and Christmas so they can enjoy feasts like the rest of us take for granted. Last year, they provided 25,000. This year they’ve received requests for more than 42,000.
The same article mentioned that fourteen percent of Americans, that’s 1 in 7, are currently receiving financial assistance relating to food.
Remember how I mentioned that even right here in my little town, thirty to forty new families are seeking assistance from local food pantries each month? Thirty to forty new each month. My town is not that big, nor under extraordinary economic pressures. This is life in America, “post-recession” (whatever that means) or not.
As we crawl toward Christmas morning, let’s spend some time asking for new eyes and ears, to re-envision, to really hear, what we might be called to do come Christmas. Maybe it’s significant, like an entire life-path-changing decision; or maybe it seems insignificant, like committing to buying an extra can of tuna or jar of peanut butter every time we go to the grocery store to donate. Who knows?
But I guarantee that if we listen, if we look, if we wait, we’ll be able to hear, to see, and to know.
Lord, we need a new redemption song. Lord, we’ve tried–it just seems to come out wrong. Won’t you help us, please? Help us just to sing along? A new redemption song…
— from “New Redemption Song,” a track off one of Over the Rhine’s holiday albums, Snow Angels