Christmas is God announcing to the world, “Emmanuel”, God is with us.
It’s God coming down in human form to bring the kingdom of heaven near, and to show us who God is and what He is like.
Yes, it is also about the Saviour coming into the world, but I prefer to think of Jesus’ sacrifice and the cross and resurrection at Easter. At Christmas, I like to think about God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, so that we could meet Him, see Him, feel Him, know Him.
Christmas tells us that we are not alone; that God is here. That God wants relationship, and that He yearns to know us.
And so Christmas should be a time when we, too, think about showing others who God is and what He is like.
It should be a time where we become the hands and feet of Jesus, to play our very small role in “Emmanuel, God with us.”
That’s why I’d like to invite all of you, along with me (and I issue this challenge to me as well) to think about how we can bless others this Christmas. And in so doing, I think we’ll bless ourselves, and our marriages, too! Let’s not make Christmas only about getting together with our own families, and cocooning in our own safe worlds (although I encourage you to listen to yesterday’s podcast if your family isn’t so safe!), and let’s make it instead about thinking beyond our walls and into the world.
God announced Jesus’ coming to those far and wide, not just to those close to Mary and Joseph. The shepherds heard it in the fields. The wise men heard it in lands far, far away. And I hope we can share it with those outside our walls, too. And besides–the more we do things for others, the happier we often become ourselves. Volunteering is one of the best things you can do for your marriage.
1. Bring some yummy stuff to those who are serving your community this Christmas Eve/Christmas
Are you going out to a Christmas Eve service? Or maybe you’ll be driving to your parents’ house on Christmas Day? What about stopping by the fire house, the emergency room, the neonatal ward, the police station, or other places where someone has to be on duty and dropping off some Christmas baking, some donuts, and some thank you cards?
They’re missing out on being with family because they’re doing jobs that all of us need them to do. So say thank you to them for being on duty!
2. Bless some caregivers who are sitting in vigil by someone’s bed this Christmas
On wards at your local hospitals, loved ones are sitting around the beds of those who are ill, missing Christmas at home, but wanting to be with those they love.
Some of the saddest places on Christmas Eve are in the palliative care wards or the children’s hospitals on Christmas. I know that when my husband worked in the hospital, they always tried to discharge as many kids as they could to get them home for Christmas, if at all possible. So often the patients in the hospital over Christmas are very sick, which means their loved ones are very stressed.
And many patients, of course, are also all alone.
Hospitals often have rules about who can visit, and some hospitals may not allow you to visit patients without a background check. But you can often bring care packages for those who are sitting with loved ones. So bring in some Christmas baking; some chapstick (hospitals are notoriously dry); some hand cream; some puzzle books; and maybe even some cards just saying that you are thinking of them and praying for them. Choose a ward, phone the nursing administrator before you just show up, but come on up. You may have to leave the packages at the nurses’ station (they may not allow you to hand them out), but it’s still sweet to do.
3. Go carolling at a hospice, or bring presents for the caregivers
Hospices are a little different from hospitals, and often a little more informal. Phone up your local hospice and ask if there’s anything you can do around the Christmas season. Some may appreciate some carolling (of quiet songs), and some may appreciate the care packages for caregivers as well. Ask questions, and figure out when’s the best time to come.
4. Visit a Nursing Home or Assisted Living Home
Did you know that between 50-60% of nursing home residents never get any visitors? I found this little anecdote on an article about senior isolation in Atlanta:
Laurie, is one of the forgotten. Not long ago, on Christmas day, a group of volunteers from Second Wind Dreams, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, was delivering gifts to some of the elderly in her nursing home. One of the children in the volunteer group noticed that Laurie was walking up and down the hall attired in an evening gown.
She was so dressed up, in fact, that the girl thought she must be on her way to a black-tie event and remarked to Laurie how beautiful she looked. Laurie simply said: “You know hon, I heard I was going to get a visitor today, so I wanted to look nice.” It turned out that Laurie was one of the people the volunteers had on their list to visit.
Call a nursing home near you and see if you can come in and bring some Christmas cheer. Go as close to Christmas as you can, so that it’s extra special for those who won’t get visitors. Wear you most terrible Christmas sweaters! Read the Christmas story out loud (and if you have children, have them read it–but practice first so they can do it well, and teach them how to read LOUDLY). Bring some lovely Christmas decorations and hand them out to people to put in their rooms. (It’s best not to bring food, since many residents are on strict diets). Throw in some lovely hand creams.
Then just visit. Sit and do puzzles with some residents. Go around the room, shake people’s hands, and ask them to tell you about their favourite Christmas, and what made it so special. Here’s another way to bless people: see if you can bring pets. Rebecca and Connor (my daughter and son-in-law) have a little yorkshire terrier. They’ve left him with a dog sitter a few times, and this sitter asks permission to take little Winston to see her father in a nursing home. He used to have small dogs, but now he doesn’t. And Winston jumps right up on his lap and makes him so happy.
If you’re going to visit a nursing home, please phone first and ask how you can help and when would be the best time.
5. Include International Students in your celebrations
Do you live in a town with a college or university? Chances are there are international students staying there over Christmas with nowhere to go.
My friend Mollie has returned to school at the age of 50 to retrain, and she’s met a number of women from India. She decided to throw a Christmas party for them, with all the trimmings–turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, everything. And she’s asking people to donate things so that each woman gets a stocking. She asked them all, and out of the 15 people, only one had ever been inside a Canadian home.
Many colleges and universities have Christian ministries on campus. Contact the ministry and ask if you can help with a Christmas dinner for international students–or, if you know some students yourself, invite them to dinner!
6. Invite 2 extra people to Christmas dinner
Speaking of dinner, if you’ve got some extra space around your Christmas table, what about inviting some people who don’t have family in the area, or who may be alone for Christmas? Think of the single people in your church, or the young couple who has moved across the country. Or what about some of your neighbours who may be alone?
7. Make care packages for the homeless and deliver them
Many of us spend November filling shoeboxes for those on the other side of the world. How about making care packages for those who are closer to home? Put them in one of those reusable fabric bags, and include warm wool socks, underwear, scarves, hats, some granola bars or high fibre protein bars, some gum. Even include something to help fight boredom, like a puzzle book and some pens. Many of the homeless women in my town actually crochet dishcloths and try to sell them on the street, so I’ll be including some yarn and some crochet hooks.
And you can also call up some of your local soup kitchens, too, and see if they have volunteer spots available. It’s also a great volunteer opportunity to do as a family.
8. Buy a Christmas tree and decorate it for a family in need
A church I once went to hosted neighbourhood Christmas banquets for the community, where the aim was to bless the neighbours. And part of it was always a raffle of Christmas trees. We’d buy trees, decorate them, and then raffle them off. Then we’d deliver them the next day. It was always amazing how many homes where we delivered them didn’t have a tree, and they’d be over the moon with delight.
If you know a struggling family, maybe a woman who has recently left an abusive marriage and is picking up the pieces with her kids; a refugee family that’s recently arrived; a family that just doesn’t have a lot of money this year, see if you can bring them some Christmas cheer, too!
9. Shovel neighbours’ driveways
If you’re in Canada like me, or in the northern states where you get snow at Christmas, pick up some shovels and go shovel out some of your elderly neighbours’ driveways, or the driveways of single parent families or other young families who are run off their feet. I know there were times my husband was on call for 36 hours straight in the middle of a snowstorm (or he stayed at the hospital so he wouldn’t have to battle snow if he got called in the middle of the night) and neighbours helped me with my driveway. Get a few big thermoses of hot chocolate, bring some Christmas baking, and drop off a few cookies while you shovel!
10. Use the conversation starters for richer conversations
Finally, around your own dinner table this Christmas, don’t forget to use our conversation starters for meaningful conversation! Let’s build some real connection in our families this Christmas.
Here’s what I suggest: Pick an evening close to Christmas when you can do one of these things, and then talk to your spouse about choosing one to do! Let’s make a difference together.
Have you ever volunteered somewhere over the Christmas season? What did you do? Let me know in the comments!