I wrote this post for my friend Esther, who started a blog in order to do a living advent calendar this year, with a focus on stories of love and hope. You can check out the rest of the posts here – and I’d really recommend that you do.
I hate to be late. Be it for the cinema or an important flight, I will always err on the side of caution and arrive in plenty of time. It’s what helps me to feel calm and in control of life. My husband, on the other hand, has a more relaxed approach to time keeping. This has been a cause of much angst to me over the years we have been married, always trying to discern when I need to learn to go with the flow and when to chivvy him along.
And so it came to pass that on a cold dark Christmas Eve some years ago, Adrian and I were driving to the late night service at our church. We were approaching the village along an unlit country road when Adrian turned to me and said, “Did you see that guy?”
I had no idea what he was talking about.
“There was a young guy back there, standing alone on the bridge. That’s a bit strange, don’t you think? To be alone at 11.40pm on Christmas Eve overlooking the railway line.”
I agreed that it was. By this stage we were driving into the village and ready to be parked and in church just in time for the start of the service. And then he spoke the words I knew were coming.
“I think we should go back.”
Once Adrian has seen something that isn’t right he can’t let it lie. His heart for the vulnerable is one of the things I love most about him – but there are many moments when it challenges every selfish bone in my body. For a second (or maybe two or three) I did battle with my inner timekeeper who was getting her knickers in a twist about being late for church. And then, following the voice of my husband, came the quiet whisper in my spirit.
I turned the car around.
We drove back to the bridge and Adrian went to speak to the guy and I stayed in the car and prayed. Five minutes later Adrian came back. The boy had been having a rough time at home and just needed some space. He assured us he wasn’t about to do anything drastic and politely declined the offer to join us at church. Later that night, before going to sleep, we prayed for him. We didn’t even know his name but we prayed that he would know peace and entrusted him to God. We never saw him again.
In some ways this is a non story. Not very much happened and we don’t know the outcome. Did we make a difference that night? Who knows? But I know it made a difference to me.
Too often I can be caught up in my own world and too full of my own concerns to see what’s important, even when it’s right in front of me. I don’t think I’m alone in this, especially at this time of year. Our already busy lives can become choked with lists and appointments and our view of the world becomes cluttered with the tinsel and trappings of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and all of the bustle it brings – but sometimes those things obscure what’s really at the heart of it.
Each time I ignore that person on the margins because to include them would be too awkward; every time I decide that to stop and help would be too inconvenient right now; when the things on my list take priority over the people around me, then I am missing the very essence of Christmas.
The Christ child whom we celebrate became a man who welcomed the outsider, stopped for the needy and broken ones and celebrated that which was overlooked by the masses. The greatest way for me to honour him at this time of year is not by singing carols about him, but by actually living like him.
And so my prayer for myself this Christmas, and for each person reading this, is that in amongst the presents and the parties, the cakes and the carols, the lights and the laughter, that we would listen for the whisper of his spirit when he tells us to stop and look for what is unseen.
And then turn the car around.