Silent Night, Lonely Night

For many, Christmas is not merry; it’s not a time of good cheer and joy.  It’s a poignant time where sorrow and loneliness are palpable, even overwhelming.  Many will sit down at a table filled with delectables as they do every year, but will do so without someone they love.  In many homes financial frustrations will abound and family discord will often resurface.

This is what you might call common grief.  A grief that a great swath of us know and experience year in and year out.  It’s the grief of illness, or loss; the grief of painful memories from the past or disappointment.  These griefs are intensified during the holidays.  Sahaj Kohli, a blogger with the Huffington Post comments in a recent article introducing their new forum “Common Grief” for folks who are suffering:

“For people dealing with grief and loss, the holidays can magnify loneliness, sorrow and social isolation — all potential factors leading to depression.” 1

But there is a deeper grief that some experience that you and I know little about.  Folks who will not be able to access internet forums, counselors, or conference rooms.  These people lay down in cold alleyways to sleep with no presents and nothing to eat during Christmas.  They will have no family to smile at them, to give love to or receive love from.  They will listen to the sounds of distant Christmas parties, laughter and carolers from a distance.  From their shopping carts, park benches, or trash heaps, they will shed tears that nobody is there to wipe away, forgotten by the whole world.

They are the homeless.

No amount of tinsel or lights could ever fix such sorrow.

Operation Silent Night

But these are the very folks that the team over at Silent Night ministries will seek out this Christmas Eve.  From their website:

The holiday rush is over, the shops are closed. It’s Christmas Eve and the city streets are seemingly empty. But wait…not just this night but every night there are over 700,000 homeless in the United States. Over 250,000 of these are unsheltered, sleeping on our streets.  Operation Silent Night takes place every Christmas Eve when we gather a few friends and go to the streets to be with those forgotten homeless.

Preparations have already begun for this year’s push and soon these volunteers will storm the streets of Washington DC to share the love of Jesus Christ with these precious forgotten souls who also bear the image of God.  Sue Thomas, the founder of Silent Night ministries writes on her blog:

“Yes, tonight begins the journey to Washington, DC where over 8,000 people are homeless and over 600 sleep on the streets on any given night. What began ten years ago with two single women serving 25 hot sandwiches continues to grow each year!

The lunch truck will be packed tonight along with the shuttle bus holding the backpacks, pillows, comforters, coats and hoodies. Tomorrow the gas tanks will be filled and propane filled to have the ovens and large coffee maker ready for hot chocolate.” 2

Christmas Commercialization

The commercialization of Christmas has only made the problem worse, frankly.  While tangible items can help some, Santa Claus cannot bring a present big enough to take these deep sorrows away.

Only one can do that: Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus is “the reason for the season,” and it’s absolutely critical that we never lose sight of that, because Jesus, unlike our modern day genie-in-a-bottle Santa, was a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).  From the moment Jesus left his heavenly home to come into the world all the way up to the day he died, his life was surrounded by tremendous pain and suffering.  This is the Jesus that the folks at Silent Night ministries hope to bring to the homeless each Christmas.

At birth Jesus was welcomed into this world by a King who was seeking to kill him because he felt threatened by prophecies and signs that suggested Jesus was to be a great King.  He was born into a family surrounded by the scandal of a mother who was pregnant before marriage in a highly religious culture with a story that few believed.  As Jesus matured and stepped out into a life of ministry, he was rejected by his family who thought he was a lunatic.  Jesus had few friends and often had no place to stay.  The power brokers of his day hated him and were constantly seeking to expose him and trip him up.  His friends and followers were made up primarily of a bunch of rag-tag nobodies, with little money or influence; men and women who were constantly questioning him, doubting him and failing him.  Virtually the whole Israelite nation at the time failed to grasp the teachings of Jesus and misunderstood his entire ministry.  Finally, after a life living in complete love and self-forgetfulness, Jesus is abandoned, betrayed, and wrongfully killed.  All but one of his original disciples not long after Jesus death were eventually killed too.

Whatever your grief is this Christmas, if there ever was one who could understand the pain you feel at Christmas, it is Jesus of Nazareth.

Come to him with all your sorrow. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3).  He will love you.  He will weep with you and help you to carry your pain.  And, if you trust him, he will one day bring you to himself in Heaven, where he has prepared a place for you.  A home.  An eternal dwelling where you will never want or lack.

  1. See her post titled “Introducing Common Grief: You are Not Alone”, found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/common-grief_56731341e4b0648fe302a328?utm_hp_ref=common-grief.  Accessed on 12/22/15.
  2. See the full post at http://suethomasministries.org/2015/12/21/21-december-2015-1653/. Accessed on 12/22/15.

Why Should Christians Help the Poor?

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
     learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:16-17).

“Extreme poverty” is  a moniker oft-used to describe a level of living for human beings that far exceeds the poverty experienced in most Western nations.  In a slum, we see tin, corrugated roofs attached to mud and stick homes, occupied by the lame, diseased, addicted, abused, trafficked, and enslaved.  There is violence, abandonment, young widows and little orphans without number.  The elderly squat in a miserable existence, waiting for their inevitable doom.  Was kann Mann tun? (German for, What can a man do?)  We say this with our hands in the air, looking to the heavens.  I’ve experienced this melancholy sadness, having been in a slum area in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia a number of times.

The overwhelming experience of being in a slum causes us to wonder: Are we fighting a losing battle when we “fight poverty”?  Why are some nations poor, while others are wealthy?  Who are the poor?  How should poverty even be defined?  Or, is it like pornography: it’s difficult to define, but you know it when you see it?  These are all crucial questions.  This post is simple enough, as it will address the reason(s) why Christians are to help the poor.

The Christian view of helping the poor is more than just giving people medicine, or training them in engineering, or fostering relationships with government officials e.g. “spreading democracy.”  The gospel renews people and gives them hope in a God who is sovereign, loving, and good, and has power over disease and evil. 1

But how does all of this eliminate poverty?  Surely, someone would argue, a set of religious beliefs, while giving people hope for the “next life” are abstract ideas that have no real bearing on the here and now.  But the Christian hope is not for the “hereafter” where we “fly away to heaven.”  No, the Christian hope is rooted in Christ’s prayer he taught his disciples to pray: “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” (Matthew 6:9-10).  The Christian view is that, given the goodness and blessings of the gospel, we can have hope for this life, as well as the next.  To wit, the gospel teaches government officials to treat people with fairness and justice.  The gospel teaches husbands to love their wives and be faithful to them, and to treat their children with tenderness.  The gospel teaches us to say “No” to ungodly and destructive additions.  The gospel changes lives to let people know they must give an account of their lives to the Lord, and it changes them by the healing presence of the Father, who fills the heart with love.

Christian hope for the next life gives us hope now.  For Jesus died and rose and we too, after we die, will rise to be with him forever when he returns to us (Romans 6:7-9).  We will be with him in a “new heavens and a new earth,” (Isaiah 65:17Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13Revelation 21:1).  The reason why Christians help the poor then, from a theological standpoint, is because we are to proclaim the kingdom of God (or, the reign of God), which is the good news that Jesus is Lord (Romans 1:1-4Ephesians 3:7-13), and that Jesus has come to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).  Jesus is “Lord” as opposed to any other ruler, president, king, or dictator.  Such news gives freedom to the oppressed, because the oppressed know that the oppressor will not always oppress.

We therefore do the aforementioned good works of compassion because we have the confidence that God is in the business of healing the nations.  We are commanded to visit the widow and the orphan in their distress, and to remain unspotted from the world (James 1:27).   We must also heed the warning of Jesus in Matthew 25 about not neglecting the poor.  “I never knew you,” he says to those who neglected the poor.  It is remarkable, then, how the atonement of Christ compels us to help the poor; for God entered our world and suffered, and so too, we are called to enter the world of the poor, suffer with them, and show them the compassion of Jesus.  2

image credit: “Hard Working Child” by karlhans is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. The original was cropped to fit the slider.

  1. For a scholarly text listing numerous miraculous events from all over the world, see Craig Keener’s (Ph.D, Duke) two-volume set, “Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts
  2.  For an excellent documentary on global poverty, see the film, Poverty Inc.