This is the second installment in Advent All Around, a Think Christian series that sees reflections of Advent in the culture at large.
On a bitterly cold night in November, police officer Larry DePrimo bought a pair of boots and some warm socks and gave them to a homeless man sitting barefoot outside a store in New York City. It was a marvelous act of love and might have gone unnoticed except that it was captured by a tourist in a photograph. We walk by homeless, hurting, suffering people every day and it is easy to look the other way. Maybe we try not to make eye contact so as to ward off the cries of the beggars. Out of our fear, we might whisper silent prayers hoping to not have to engage those who can seem so unapproachable. DePrimo noticed and put love into practice. He walked into a shoe store, bought the correct size boots and socks and gently helped place them on the feet of someone he didn’t even know. We catch our breath at such amazing kindness. It calls us to be better than we are.
Woven into Scripture is the story of a couple who come to Bethlehem to register their citizenship in the Roman empire. The young woman probably shouldn’t be traveling since she is pregnant and near term, but the laws require that they register in their city of origin, so they make the trek to Bethlehem. We have no record of how they got to town or how long it took, but when they arrive they discover there is no place to stay. The inn is full and they are left to wander the streets. Momentarily homeless, they search for shelter and end up making use of a stable and an animal feeding trough to serve as a shelter and a bed for their newborn. The baby is born into circumstances that seem fearful and desperate to us. Mary and Joseph, alone in town, add another name to the census: Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, all citizens of the town of Bethlehem.
This child is different than other children. He is unique. Out in surrounding fields some shepherds are aroused by angels’ voices announcing this birth. It seems this temporarily homeless baby, born into such meager circumstances, is the one the prophets had foretold. The one who was greater than Caesar himself. This homeless baby is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The shepherds, overwhelmed by the announcement, leave the flocks and rush to town and find the stable and see the goodness of God to His people swaddled in cloth, laid in a trough.
God doesn’t just love; His essence is love. But people are far from Him. They ignore Him as if He were a street person. They choose to hate Him and turn away from Him. But now, in this baby, His all-consuming love has come to us in person. This baby is destined to live a perfect life and then, in the greatest act of love ever, lay down His life for us. A jaw-dropping, selfless act that reconciles man and God. A loving act far greater than buying shoes for a stranger.
The result of this story threading its way through Scripture is that we are filled with the love of God. We, too, can lay down our lives in loving service, knowing that the God of love never lets us go. We can join the story. So, go love! Love boldly! Love your enemies, your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, your families. Don’t forget to buy some shoes for someone in need. Warm socks, too.