There they were…packages of various sizes wrapped in Christmas paper scattered all along the snow drifts in my front yard. I looked out my window wondering how long they would last in the snow and when my father would let us retrieve them, I was only seven years old. In a fit of rage over something unknown to us, he had tossed them, along with the tree, out the door early that Christmas morning. It would be three days before he cooled down enough to let us bring them inside and several more before we could open them. I don’t even remember what I got that year, but I do remember the image of the gifts in the snow. For years that memory, along with other similar “holiday events”, shaped my (non) enjoyment of Christmas. That was until God gave me a Christmas experience that would change me forever.
In my early twenties I traveled with a gospel rock band and from time to time we would do other gigs besides concerts. On one of these occasions, two other band members and myself went down to the Bowery in NY city to serve in one of the many soup kitchens, this particular one was run by the Salvation Army. We got there early in the morning but the line to get a hot meal was already long and many were anxious to get inside the shelter. We met with the leaders of the shelter who filled us in on how the day would go. The setup was simple, one group would first listen to a quick Christmas message in the small chapel and afterwards move to the cafeteria to eat, this process would repeat itself until people and or food ran out.
To my surprise, I was asked to give the first message and was quickly shown the way to the chapel. As the various groups of people shuffled in from the cold air, I saw through the open door that it had begun to snow. The collection of old and young, men and women slowly found seats, many were still drunk or coming down from a night of intoxicated waste. Against the white purity of the fresh snow their filthy clothes and smell stood out in stark contrast. What could I say to move the hearts of such people? As I waited for the chapel to fill, the Lord brought back the memory of the scattered presents in the snow bank outside my home. He quietly said to me…
“These are my gifts…they too have been scattered and thrown away, tell them I desire to bring them home.”
My heart and eyes were opened with those words, I began to feel the heart of the Father towards these “lost gifts”.
I began to speak, reading from the scriptures I told them of poor shepherds, pretty much the outcast of their day, being the first ones to hear about the Messiah’s birth and by angels no less! I related to them that this story was about God’s great love and no matter how far they had fallen, He wanted them underneath the blessing of another tree—the cross, which His son Jesus was born to bear for them. I finished my small sermon, prayed for them and release them to the hot meal waiting for them. All but one left the room, a young man my age waited and asked to speak with me. He shared his story, how his father had thrown him out on the streets just a few months before Christmas. The message of God’s love had deeply moved him, making him realize how much he wanted God in his life and how he needed to ask his father for forgiveness.
As we talked and prayed God was healing much inside of me as well—from now on—Christmas would be different for both of us. That’s the power of the Gospel, if we allow it to flow to every part of our being…we can’t stay the same. Redemption from our sin is only the beginning, for restoration and wholeness is both a journey as well as a destination.
That night in a small Jewish town a message of hope spoke across time to a small chapel in New York City. There, on their knees, two young men saw that message in a whole new way.
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” - Luke 1:68