The Spirit–of Christmas

I want to write about fun stuff.

It’s Christmas.  I want to fill pages with candy canes and tinsel.  Santa Claus and hula hoops.  Happy voices raised in joyful song–the same voices laughing uproariously at an old memory retold. Children’s noses pressed against windows as the snow falls outside and a promise of a White Christmas.

In short, I want to get–and keep–the Christmas Spirit.

What I actually get is the chance to take an indigent man to his “grandfather’s” house miles from my warm home, where I should be, helping the Lovely Lady prepare for our family dinner.  And he stinks.

I thought I was safe today.  The music store isn’t open.  No one can come through the doors of my business and ask for a favor.  There is no chance that I can be convinced to purchase any unwanted instrument–no possibility of a request to donate money for food or gas.

I went to church and stood up front to sing.  Two services.

We sang beautiful Christmas carols.

“Joy to the world.  The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.”

“Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doth He sleep…
Peace on earth, good will to man.”

Haven’t I done my part?  Can I go home to my beautiful family now?  Can we laugh and plan and anticipate the coming Day?  It is warm in my home and the cold world will be safely kept at bay.  There is nothing to dampen our spirits there.

The Lovely Lady and I finish our part of the worship service at church and walk out into the foyer.  He is just coming in the back door.  He is dirty and wearing tattered old clothes.  I can smell the stale tobacco mixed with body odor from where I am.

“I need to talk with you,” he says, without even noticing who I am.

I almost laugh.  Almost.  It is the same man who has walked in the door of my music store multiple times over the last year.  He uses my phone.  I have purchased meals for him.  I even hugged him once.  The smell stayed with me until I showered that night.

Even at my church, I can’t escape him.  He doesn’t recognize me, but he needs help once more.  He needs a ride to a town thirty miles distant from mine.

“No, I can’t help you.”  I hear my voice say the words and realize with a sinking feeling in my stomach that I will do it anyway.  If I turn him away, he will walk in the near freezing temperatures.  The last time I was outside the snow flurries in the air were blowing sideways into my face.  The chill was trapped in my clothes for a long time.

I will take him.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I am not doing it because I want to.  I am trapped.  I won’t sleep tonight if I don’t.  I know who I am and I know what my faith requires of me.  I’ll do it, but I won’t like it.

All the way to our destination, the stench is in my nostrils.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you it made my nose run and my eyes burn.  I was unhappy and feeling sorry for myself.

When do I get my happy time?  I want the cheerful, carefree joy of Christmases past.

“Christmas, Christmastime is here
Time for toys and time for cheer!”

As I grit my teeth and prepare to endure the trip, I begin to hear the voice of my passenger and the words he is saying.  Parents who didn’t want him, a string of foster homes, guardians who offer beer to children to keep them quiet, a girlfriend who is strung out on drugs and kicked him out of her apartment this morning, a friend who died of an overdose in the cold last week–the quiet, matter-of-fact recitation goes on.  I have heard the tall tales this man can tell to get what he wants.  He can spin yarns that will pull the wallet right out of your pocket. These are not those.

The pain in the telling is almost tangible.  The tears in his eyes as he grips my hand while he alights from my car after we reach his destination are not manufactured.  He has entrusted me with his history.  Not because he will get anything further from me.  Simply because we are together, being honest with each other.

He doesn’t offer me any compensation for the ride.  He never apologizes for the inconvenience.  But, as I drive away to make the half-hour trip back home, I get it.  Finally, I get it.

The Spirit of Christmas.

It’s not about feeling all jubilant, or cheerful, or even nostalgic.  The Spirit of Christmas doesn’t come from playing Santa Claus, or from decorating your house, or from getting that bicycle or iPad you hoped for.  Warm fuzzies have absolutely nothing to do with the Spirit of Christmas.

The King of Highest Heaven saw us standing in the foyer, with no way to get to where we needed to be.  We were (and are) smelly, and rude, and vile.  And, unlike the poor excuse for a human that I am, He didn’t argue, didn’t resent the imposition, didn’t have to be dragged screaming and kicking to obey.

He just said, “Yes. I will give them a ride.  I will be the way for them.”

It has always taken me awhile to comprehend truth, even when it is right in front of my face.  I think I understand (for today, at least).

There was no laughter, no elation in heaven as the Baby was born.  This was no party He was coming to–no festive occasion.

The Spirit of Christmas reaches down to the dirty, the weak, the spiteful, and the wicked.  It wraps its arms around them, despite the stink.

It says, “No charge.”  It declares, “Every one of you can come along for the ride.”

The Christmas Spirit?  It starts deep in our hearts and reaches to the world around us.   What do you say we work together on spreading a little of that around in the days to come?

We may not get all the laughter and jolly fun we think we need.

But, I’m thinking the real thing might be just a little better.  It will probably last a little longer, too.  

“A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.”
(from “Christmas Bells” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~ American poet ~ 1807-1882)

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
(John Bunyan ~ English author ~ 1628-1688)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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3 thoughts on “The Spirit–of Christmas

  1. I’m pretty choked up, and well…numb sorta. I know “I” miss it a lot! If only a lot more of us really could “get it”, and keep “getting it” all year long. In fact, each day. It’s not easy…and I think it’s almost always when we’re the weariest and needing to just go home and perhaps even go to bed and rest. But, it’s lasting and it’s “Jesus” in skin. I for one appreciate you and your lovely wife, and how you walk the walk, and really are doers even when you least feel like it Paul. Thank you.

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