by Kathleen Simley, First Lutheran Communications Director
A number of years ago, I ventured out on Black Friday to purchase a Christmas gift. I have never been one to shop on Black Friday, but the sale was too good to pass up and the gift was a “must have” for a family member.
I hoped the shopping experience wouldn’t be as bad as I imagined it would be. Unfortunately, it was worse. Between the mobs of shoppers, the long check out lines and the ransacked shelves, it was far from what I imagined.
As I was walking out of the store and back into the cold with my purchase (and a headache), I heard the Salvation Army bell ringer standing near the entrance joyfully say to me, “Merry Christmas!” I walked by him without a glance, a greeting back or even an ounce of consideraton to donate. As I continued walking towards the car, I thought, “Yeah, right. You HAVE TO be joyful and cheerful if you want to get donations. If you would have experienced what I did inside the store, you wouldn’t be saying, ‘Merry Christmas!’, with so much cheer and joy.”
As I continued the walk to my car, I overheard the volunteer say to another shopper exiting the store, “It’s cold out here today. You should button up your coat. You don’t want to be sick during the holidays. Have a Merry Christmas!” He exuberated the same joy to that shopper as he did with me.
I stopped in my tracks and turned to now look at the volunteer. I saw a middle-aged man, volunteering his time in 20-degree weather, dressed in a light-weight jacket, ringing his bell with a smile and being concerned about another person’s warmth, health and well-being over his own. And a stranger no less! And the joy I had questioned seconds earlier, now sounded real and genuine. Could it be that he really is this happy and joyful about Christmas?
Suddenly, the holiday store madness that had overcome me seemed to dissipate quickly. Joy (and a tinge of guilt) now began to take over. I turned around and walked back towards the man. He watched as I approached him. Neither of us said a word to the other as I grabbed my wallet out of my purse and emptied its entire contents into his donation bucket. Before he had a chance to say anything, I looked directly into his eyes and said, “Merry Christmas to you, too!” Despite how cold he was, he warmly smiled back and in the joyful tone I expected, he said, “You, too!”
I turned around and made the walk back to my car for the second time. But, this time, something was different. I had a smile on my face and a heart that was filled with gratitude and joy – and it was all because a stranger, out in the cold, took a few seconds to share his joy with me.
During this holiday season, don’t let the “Grinch” attitude or holiday stressors and distractions keep you from hearing, seeing, feeling and sharing the true joy of Christmas with others.
In the spirit of the Salvation Army bell ringer who inspired me to do good and who also reminded me what joy really feels like, let me joyfully say to you, “HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
Lord, help us to experience the joy of Christmas and give us an open heart and mind to model it and share it with others. Amen.