Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Lessons from a Small City

Two thousand years ago, in the cloaked hush of a Judean cave, surrounded by the smells and sounds of animals, our Lord Jesus Christ opened human eyes on the world.

Out of the nothingness of that shrouded night, angels sang of glory, poor shepherds left their fields, and rich kings headed out to find their God.

Out of seeming nothingness, our God appeared and consecrated the forgotten, the abandoned, the overlooked space of a simple cave. Our homeless God showed that wealth is a matter of perspective, a matter of looking into the dark forgotten spaces of our hearts, of opening our souls to the impossible and turning our thoughts to the divine.

Out of apparent nothingness, God landed helpless in this world, born of the least of it’s members, a woman who opened herself to the potential disgrace of premarital pregnancy, who risked rejection and even stoning for the sake of her God.

And throughout all of Jesus’ life, from birth to the moment of crucifixion and beyond, he continued to point to the possibilities for hope in the rejected, desperate people and situations he encountered.

Recently, Brockville made the news as one of the most economically difficult places to live. The loss of jobs is taking its toll on our community. And certainly, as the number of visitors to the Food Bank rises, we know that things are not easy for many of our citizens.

But there is hope in this season. You would think with our economic problems, generosity would be scarce in Brockville. You’d think people would be hoarding their pennies. You’d think stinginess would rule this most beautiful of seasons. This is not the case.

The people of Brockville have demonstrated an overwhelming generosity during the past weeks of Advent. While there are many examples of this, from charitable organizations, the Salvation Army and each of the Churches, my most recent experience of Brockville’s generosity comes from the St Mary CHS canned food drive.

Every year the students of St Mary have blown away their record food collection. Starting with 2000 items in the year 2000, they collected 36 290 last year. Yesterday, we learned that this year's total topped 50 000. That's FIFTY thousand items from a city of 22 000 people, and a school of 750. In proportionate terms, that would be like a school in Toronto collecting 4.5 million items (more than two cans for every citizen). How does it happen??

The students take to heart Jesus’ message to care for the least of our neighbors. But this story is so much bigger than one school’s efforts. The community of Brockville has backed this drive 100% since it began. Students have been amazed as donors have responded to their requests for help. Out of nothing, hope has been born by the people of Brockville.

One example out of many: A group of three students told me the story of approaching the check out at the Walmart grocery exit with their cart full of cans, only to have people in the line insist on paying for their order – of over $100. And the donors refused to give their names.

Like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus calls out to us across the ages, “Feed my people”. And though we may feel we have nothing, this community has a wealth of caring that cannot be measured.

Christmas reminds us to be on guard for the miraculous, to take nothing and no one for granted, to open our hearts to the forgotten, and to roll up our sleeves and work for the kingdom. We are all on a journey to the manger, every day of the year, and none of us walk alone.

Thank you Brockville, and merry Christmas.

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