The man was a recent widower. I had known he and his family for several years and recognized them all as true people of God, always helpful in local church work, and hearts of pure gold when it came to helping others.
Now he was alone and in his golden years. He had spent Thanksgiving with his children and grandchildren, and was facing Christmas alone. It wasn't something that bothered him but it really was an issue for all of those who were concerned about him. He had received countless invitations to join other families for Christmas dinner, yet graciously declined. Those invitations were still coming on Christmas morning, yet his phone went unanswered. Messages were left on his answering machine, and there were some folks that even drove to his house, only to find his car was not there, and he wasn't at home.
It was later that Christmas afternoon he was finally located. He had returned home and was taking a nap when his doorbell rang. There were people concerned about him, but now relieved he was fine. It took a while for someone to finally ask, "Where were you? We were concerned about you being alone today."
It took a while, but he explained to them how he had decided to volunteer at the Salvation Army's Christmas lunch for the local homeless and needy. He had spent the day helping to prepare the lunch, serve the turkey and dressing, and organize the clean-up. All that took most of the day, and now he needed his nap!
Some of the people checking on him that day, gave him a hug but others criticized his actions because he had visibly endorsed a religious organization other than his own. I may get in trouble for this, but I was on his side!
It was an easy decision for me to make, especially when I considered other families from our church whose bellies were full or over filled. And while I will not criticize the idea of family gatherings and huge meals on Christmas, I had to admit, if it were up to our church, those homeless people would not have had a Christmas meal that day.
The memory of that Christmas returns to me each year as I vow to do something to help those who are helping others during the holidays. For me, that is not the time for us to become competitive over our religious labels, but to demonstrate the love of God through us, and extending our love for others through our individual actions. It's all a part of the reason for the Christ-child coming into the world. And part of our responsibility to continually show "peace on earth, good will toward men."