What is Important This Christmas Part 2: To Incarnate Christ
Read Part 1 of this series by Eric Garrett here.
I’m one of those crazy people who gets up early on Black Friday to shop. It’s a tradition my daughters and I have enjoyed for years. Frankly, I don’t buy much. For me it’s primarily a sentimental opportunity to spend time with my girls and have our yearly lunch at Olive Garden.
This year, though, God had a surprise for me.
It was 6 AM and I was meandering through a department store lingerie section looking for my last at-home child’s Christmas Eve gift. (Shhh! Don’t tell her it’s pajamas…again.) That’s when I saw a lovely older woman wearing a ski cap and a paper mask. She seemed confused and then asked if I knew where a certain item might be. I apologized that I didn’t, but then experienced the desire to connect with her.
“Do you mind if I ask, are you battling cancer?” I asked.
She seemed open and willing to chat. I learned her name is Joyce and that she had a double mastectomy in October and is now undergoing chemo treatments. And if that wasn’t enough, she had recently welcomed her 93-year-old mother into her home from out-of-state so they could help and support each other through their physical challenges.
Joyce’s lively demeanor, and her utter absence of complaining, immediately struck me. I couldn’t help but encourage and thank her for her compelling example of joy in suffering.
“Oh, honey,” she responded. “I have my bad moments when I feel overwhelmed and don’t know how I’m gonna get through this!”
Humility on display once again.
I hesitated to ask the next question but once again felt an urge I couldn’t resist.
“Joyce, I know this might be a little awkward, but…um…would you be okay if I say a brief prayer for you?”
Her eyes darted around as if she was understandably wondering why a stranger wanted to pray for her…now? But her hesitation was momentary.
“I would like that.”
And so I prayed, thanking God for the privilege of meeting Joyce and asking Him to fill her with comfort and strength to endure the anxiety and suffering while caring for her elderly mother. I felt like I was on holy ground. As tears fell down both our cheeks Joyce and I encountered the living Christ at 6 AM on Black Friday morning. Immanuel, God with us, made His presence known to two strangers surrounded by underwear and Christmas pajamas.
I will likely never see Joyce again, unless we bow together in worship at His feet on That Day. But I don’t want to forget those warm, bright eyes resting between a beanie covering her balding head and the mask that protected her from my germs. I want to remember the lively woman who gave me a glimpse of how to persevere through suffering while continuing to give her life away to others. And I pray God will give me future urges to pray for more Joyce’s as I seek to overcome my insensitivity to the potentially lost and certainly hurting He puts into my path.
The fact is I typically move through my busy life focused on getting my task list completed or making sure I get through my errands as quickly as possible. How many times have I not even noticed the people He has brought my way? And even when I noticed them, I have rarely stopped to take more than a cursory interest in their life or offered to pray for them. That morning God brought Joyce to me to ask for help I couldn’t provide. But He gave me something to give and the courage to give it; it was a rare experience for me that I’m asking God to see repeated again and again.
Joyce represents something very precious to me: the opportunity to incarnate Immanuel to the hurting around me. Will you join me in asking Him to give us faith to risk being misunderstood or rejected or ridiculed for the sake of the gospel this Christmas? I knew Joyce might politely refused my offer to pray and I would likely have walked away self-consciously embarrassed due to a proud heart that wants even strangers to accept and approve of me. But she gave me the greatest of gifts by allowing me to show Christ to her. Believe me, meeting her was the best deal I received last Friday.
Lord, please open our eyes to the Joyce’s around us this holiday season. You are God with us…even in the most surprising places.