’Tis the season

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“’Tis the season to be jolly …” But not for everyone. In early December, our church began a coat and blanket drive. Some years ago, a lady in our congregation was moved by the plight of the homeless men and women of Atlanta, many of whom have nowhere to go, and sleep in alleys and under bridges. In spite of the nickname, “Hotlanta,” winters can be brutal. One night recently nighttime temperatures dropped to 19 degrees.

This young lady, and her daughter, began to collect blankets and coats from the folks at our church and take them to those who were sleeping on the streets. It became, in essence, an all-church outreach. We, the women and the church, are doing it again this winter. For some, the Christmas season is a matter of survival.

But there are many other people for whom this season is, at best, bittersweet, and, at worst, simply bitter. There are those broken families who once celebrated the great day together but now are separated by events, emotions, time, and distance.

There are the grandparents, and parents too, who, for years, had the little ones over for a joyous Christmas Eve or morning. Now, all grown up with families of their own, the grandparents or parents spend the day wondering what those they love are doing.

Death seems more real and heartbreaking as we pass through this season. It may have been only last year that our loved ones were with us and we envisioned many such Christmases in the years to come. But now, sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly, they are gone from us. Their empty chair, the laughter they brought, is missed all the more.

And, even though the economy is improving, it is not improving for everyone. Last year, the local Marine Corps League detachment, the Sgt. Clyde Thomason Medal of Honor Detachment #1325, provided gifts, with the help of the community, to over 6,000 children in Fayette and Coweta counties. If not for the many churches and charitable organizations among us, thousands of children would be without Christmas gifts at all.

As the tension with North Korea and Iran heats up, there is the possibility that, before the next Christmas, we could be at war. Again. I have two grandsons who currently serve as United States Marines. There is just a bit of concern, in the midst of all the carols and gifts, for them and for the men and women like them who are standing watch on the world.

Many of these soldiers, sailors, coast guardsmen, airmen, and Marines will be somewhere else in the world this Christmas, many in harm’s way, as their families gather around the tree.

Then, there are those who are seriously ill during this time. It’s hard to be joyful when one is sick, or hospitalized, or debilitated, or undergoing cancer treatments. And, yet, they will try. They will pray and will hope that next Christmas, if it comes for them, will be a better one.

Then there are the many in nursing homes or in prisons who will receive neither a card nor a visit. They feel forgotten — because they are.

But, in the midst of difficulty, “in the fullness of time,” Christ very often chooses to appear, sometimes unexpectedly. He still comes to the rich, the destitute, the healthy and the sick, the broken and the whole, the prisoner, and, as our national archbishop puts it, “the least, the lost, and the lonely.”

What it really is — or should be — is the season to be caring, concerned, compassionate, generous, grateful, giving, kind, forgiving, and good. It is a season that can be holy and hallowed, in spite of the circumstances of life.

If the focus is right, it can even be inspirational and, yes, joyful. ‘Tis the season to be more than we have been, to make a difference, to reach out, to comfort, to heal.

In a few days, “It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” Peace on Earth, good will toward men, and Merry Christmas.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA, between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U.S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]