I was listening to a young woman on the radio. She talked about her childhood memory of receiving a Christmas shoebox. It was filled with toiletries, things for school and a small gift. She said the shoebox brought such joy to her. She has never forgotten that Christmas.
It was touching to hear her reminisce. The shoebox required so little from the giver, yet gave such joy to a child. Christmas can bring out the best in people.
Generosity and kindness toward strangers is a hallmark of the Christmas season. Even the icy heart of a callous man throughout 11 months of the year can begin to thaw in the warm light of compassion for humanity during the chilly month of December.
For Christians, we are called to reflect Christ's love for humanity continually. People will know we are followers of Christ by the love we show for one another. Jesus said, "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13.35).
The great 20th-century Christian thinker and Protestant theologian, Francis Schaeffer, called this "the mark of a Christian." It pleases God to see the love we show to one another and it is a powerful witness to our fellow man. It has always been this way for Christians.
The early Christian writer Tertullian (c 200) stated, "It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents." Christians' care for the weak and vulnerable made them easily identifiable targets in a Roman state hostile to Christianity. The kindness of Christians stood in stark contrast to the ways of the world.
American sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark, commented in his book, The Rise of Christianity, that classical philosophy "regarded mercy and pity as pathological emotions defects in character to be avoided by all rational men. Since mercy involves providing unearned help and relief, it was contrary to justice."
Christians of that time thought and behaved counter to the prevailing cultural tide just as we increasingly find ourselves in today's culture.
Anti-Christian views are gaining prominence once again. For example, consider the case of Linda Gibbons. She has spent years in an Ontario prison for the dastardly crime of praying the rosary too close to an abortion clinic and daring to offer life affirming help to women entering the facility to abort their babies.
Consider anti-Christian hostilities we see in efforts to eradicate Christ from Christmas by removing Nativity scenes from public spaces, or replacing carols with secular Christmas tunes, and even replacing the time honoured greeting "Merry Christmas" with "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays."
The very word "Christmas" is offensive to anti-Christians because it contains the word "Christ."
But even in this emerging hostile climate toward Christianity, Christians are called to spread the Gospel message, and Christ's love.
We who are devoted to Christ know that his kingship involves loving kindness and mercy on earth in anticipation of heaven. It matters to Christ so much that he even included a reference to it in the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
We read in the book of Isaiah, "Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord" (1.17-18). Although God was addressing the nation of Israel, the words should resonate in our ears too.
God cares about justice and mercy. That is why Christ came into the world to settle with God the problem of human sin and evil by offering himself in our place. It is because of God's love for humanity that Christ was born.
The mark of a Christian is love the new commandment Christ gave to his disciples then and now. It must be shown in tangible ways regardless of fleeting festive feelings of benevolence or sentimentality.
We must strike a critical balance between love for fellow Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and love for all our fellowmen. They all bear the image of God and we must show love to them all as our neighbours for we have one origin: God.
We cannot choose who we will love as our neighbour. That is the point of Christ's story about the Good Samaritan.
As followers of Christ we must love all people always, even at great cost to ourselves. Our love is our witness.