Mother Teresa once referred to herself as a pencil in the hand of a writing God. I've always liked that image, because it seems to capture so well the idea of God's love expressing itself. We are all pencils in the hand of a writing God who is sending love letters to the world.
I was reminded of this recently when I heard that teachers at a local high school were collecting funds to purchase glasses for a student who couldn't see well enough to read the texts. I remembered it when a friend told me that a local church was looking for volunteers to work in an inner-city soup kitchen. Kindness is God's love in expression.
Kindness never goes away, but it seems as if more people get into the act at Christmastime. The light of God's love, though always present and expressing itself, seems to glow brighter this time of year. Perhaps that's because the celebration of Jesus' birth gives us permission to get in touch with, and act out of, our true nature. As Harlan Miller said in Better Homes and Gardens: "The outdoor Christmas lights, green and red and gold and blue and twinkling, remind me that most people are that way all year round—kind, generous, friendly and with an occasional moment of ecstasy. But Christmas is the only time they dare reveal themselves." We refer to this seasonal explosion of generosity as "Christmas spirit" because it swells and bursts forth during the holiday season. But, regardless of the label, it's God's love in us, which finds expression through us, ignites our joy as it flows through us, and delights recipients. We may see it in the form of a courteous salesperson, a cabdriver who lets a car into his lane ahead of him, a college student who sifts through his meager funds and pulls out dollar bills to stuff in a bell ringer's pot. It comes in varied disguises, but it is still God's love made visible.
I thought about this recently when I dug an old Christmas chimney lamp out from a cramped storage area in my basement. The crusty base and large glass cylinder had been packed away in a faded cardboard box since last December. It was dusty and covered with dirt and oil stains, and bits of dried wax clung to the bottom edges. I scrubbed it in soapy water and wiped it dry until it glistened. Later that evening, I lit a tapered candle and placed it in the hollow base. The tiny flame flickered and began to fade until I shielded it from the air currents with my hand. The flame, which at first offered a feeble glow, expanded to become strong and vibrant—a radiant light that pushed back the darkness in the room.
We're like chimney lamps. When we act thoughtfully, generously, and lovingly, we make God's love visible. We give it form.
When we hear familiar carols, we know it’s time—kindness is fashionable once more. The jingle of Christmas bells stirs our hearts to action. We can sparkle, like newly cleaned chimney lamps, and be true to the love within. And so, money is donated to charities, doors are held open for holiday shoppers, cards are sent to friends we haven't seen for a long time. We smile, say "Merry Christmas,” and bake cookies for our neighbors.
It doesn’t matter whether our deeds are great or small or whether we are experienced or first-time givers. Kind acts set goodness in motion. Each thoughtful action creates joy within the giver and delights those who receive. Each ray of kindness contributes to the powerful beacon of God's love that gives our planet a glow each Christmas.
Last winter, ice storms in the Northeast led to power outages, and thousands of homes were without electricity. A news reporter was interviewed on the evening news in New England at that time. He stood in a snowstorm, his fur-lined mackinaw pulled tightly around him. Clutching a microphone as the video camera zoomed in for a close-up, he reported that repairmen had come from neighboring states to fix downed power lines. He told of local volunteers fighting through snow banks and difficult weather to rescue pets stranded in homes. And he concluded his news report by saying, "People tell us that we in New England are without power. That's not true. We have power—the power of human concern ... the power of human kindness ... the power of human compassion."
The power that news reporter described is the power of God's love, a compassion so commanding it has the power to heal, a light which shines so brightly at Christmas we give it a name.
We'll all have opportunities to feel the joy of the season this year and feel the touch of Christmas spirit. We'll have occasions to choose love as our response, to be a calm force in the midst of stress, to move past judgment and see the highest and best in others, to extend forgiveness. We'll have chances to smile at strangers, offer assistance, visit shut -ins, and let lonely people know we care. It will be our turn to be chimney lamps.
Christmas is a celebration of the Christ child's birth centuries ago in a small manger in a far-off land, but the love that found expression in the gift of the Christ child lives on. It's a living, growing thing, as alive today as it ever was, and we play a vital part in making it visible.
May the sights and sounds of Christmas put us in touch with our true Christ nature this year. May we be touched by the spirit of Christmas. May we laugh and smile, receive the joy, and share that joy with others.