Before we moved to Wilmington my family lived in a small Connecticut town of about 24,000 people. It was a racially and economically diverse town, and was home to government offices, expensive water-front properties, and government-funded housing projects.
I was involved with an umbrella group for neighborhood associations. Not neighborhood associations that dictate what color you can paint your house or whether you can put up a flag pole. These were home-grown neighborhood associations, created to bring communities together and to provide a voice for the residents.
My last winter in town, the umbrella group hosted a special Christmas event. The different neighborhood associations provided us with names of families who would be struggling to provide gifts for their children that year. We got an empty storefront. Favors were called in, and people were incredibly generous. We ended up with hundreds of toys and items for children of all ages. They weren’t toy store leftovers from three years ago, they were good items.
Wrapping paper appeared from somewhere, and people spent long evenings wrapping presents, and matching them up with the names on our list. There were even items we could provide for the parents.
On December 24 we spent the day loading up cars and sending people out on delivery runs. At the end of the day it was my turn to make a delivery to a family. The father opened the door and I told him that I had some Christmas presents for his children. He looked shocked, then got a little defensive as he said he hadn't signed up for any gift programs. I said we knew he had some children, we had gifts to share and we wanted him to have them.
Still defensive he asked where they came from. I just said they came from some people in town. The exchange continued as I tried to help him understand that there were no strings involved, we just simply had gifts to share with his children.
I will always remember watching the expression on his face change from anger and defensiveness to gratitude and joy. I handed him the bags, wished him a Merry Christmas and went on my way. I remember sitting in the car for a few minutes trying not to cry. It was overwhelming to realize that a simple act of sharing could have such a profound impact on both parties.
We got presents out to about 100 families that year. There were hundreds of gifts donated, and dozens of volunteers gave hundreds of hours of work. And we all agreed that the entire activity was to be done anonymously. There was no publicity, nobody took any credit for it. I'm not even sure I told my husband about it.
When Mary heard the stories that the shepherds told, the gospel of Luke says “she heard all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
When the run-up to Christmas gets hectic, I remember that man’s expression changing, and remember what Christmas is. It’s not shopping, or decorating, or food. It’s sharing. God shared the ultimate gift with us: Jesus Christ.
I remember that Christmas experience, and I ponder it in my heart. And I gladly throw a few dollars in every Salvation Army pot I see, and donate to Toys for Tots, and bring in food for the Magi Project. It’s the very least I can do to share some of the bounty that my family has been given.
Enjoy the rest of Advent, and take time to ponder your stories and experiences of God’s presence in your life.
- Ann Warner