I sincerely hope that you had a special holiday season. It was different this year, no doubt. But as Merlin recently said, we all have the same amount of time… the moment we’re in.
This year we determined to find joy even in the hiccups, and that’s what we did. From time in the kitchen doing holiday baking and trying new Christmas recipes, to playing with the kids, going on little local adventures, and reading story after story. No doubt, we missed our amazing families, and we pray that we’ll be able to get together again soon. But for now, joy in the small things is worth its weight in gold.
One of the things that I enjoy doing, especially when there’s some down time, is reading. Lately it’s been Dangerous River by R.M. Patterson, Honestly I’m Struggling by Christopher Blake and Heather Bohlender, No Longer a Slumdog by K.P. Yohannan, and with the kids, Too Much Salt and Pepper by Sam Campbell. I love stories, and always have, and I’m always looking and listening for new ones. One of the places that I don’t usually look for stories (though it’s prime for other factiods) is howstuffworks.com. However, it’s here that I came across a story at the end of Christmas break that I’d like to share with you. I know it’s no longer the holidays, but please forgive one last Christmas story.
It went like this: In Denmark, there once was a little orphaned boy. We don’t know much about him, whether his parents recently died, or if he was simply given up to the orphanage, as would sometimes happen in those days when families simply didn’t have the means to take care of their children. But regardless of how he got there, it was just before Christmas, and the little boy found himself in the orphanage.
The other children, noticing their new companion, kindly tried to cheer him up. They told him of all the wonders of Christmas at the orphanage, and as they described the beautiful way that the light streamed through the great hall from the many candles set up all around, and how on Christmas Eve a great big beautiful pine tree showed up, all decorated, and smelling wonderful, the little boy’s ears began to perk up. “That’s not all!” they said. They described how on Christmas, instead of their usual gruel, they were served a delicious stew, with real fresh bread! And then, at the end of the day, they would line up by the Christmas tree and one by one they would receive the greatest gift of all… a whole orange. One for every child!
The little boy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He’d never had a real Christmas before. At most, he’d only seen them through foggy windows as he walked down the street. And a real orange, all to himself? We take them for granted, but the little boy had only ever seen them in the market. One time, he’d dared to touch one, running his fingers briefly across its skin. For a whole week afterward, if he closed his eyes and held up his fingers, he could almost imagine that they still smelled like oranges.
It was all so hard to believe, but soon enough it was there. Christmas was finally upon them. The little boy soaked up the experience… the tree, the candles, the delicious savory food. When it was time for the oranges, each child lined up by the tree. As they went through the line, each one was greeted by the man who made it all possible. The mysterious benefactor. And to each one, he gave a very special orange. One by one they went through, and one by one they received their orange until, at the very end of the line, the little boy reached the man. He looked up, and saw the man looking sadly down at him. “I’m sorry little boy,” he said, “but all the oranges are gone. I’m afraid your name didn’t get to me in time. But don’t worry, next year you shall have an orange!”
Bitter disappointment, embarrassment, and a flood of other emotions all filled the little boy at this news, and he fled the hall, raced up the stairs, and ran to his room bawling. He barely noticed when he heard someone softly knocking on his door a bit later. He couldn’t bear to look up when he heard footsteps entering his his room, pausing, and then leaving.
When he finally did look up, what he saw next to him on his bed was an orange… peeled, but all together. When the other orphans, his new friends saw how sad he was, they each got together, took a piece of their own orange, and gave it to the little boy so that, by sharing, he would have one too.
I loved this story when I heard it. And the thing that really stood out to me was this: somebody could have just given the little boy their own orange, and if they did, then he would have had one, but they would have none. But by each sharing one piece, still a sacrifice, every child was able to experience the joy of an orange, without anyone missing out.
It made me think. How often do we put our entire mission, that to love our neighbors and to make disciples, on one person, or even a small group, expecting that they will get the job done because they have in the past? I mean, I do understand. Most of us live pretty busy lives, barely keeping up what we already have. We’re tired, and we can’t imagine dealing with one more thing on our plate. It turns out though, when we each share a piece of our orange, the gift is still complete, but miraculously, it doesn’t tax any of us beyond what we have to give.
On the calendar, it’s a new year. But our timeline is still the same. By all expectations, it’s probably going to be another hard year. Yet we can still serve each other in love. We can still follow in Jesus’ footprints and change people’s lives with kindness, love, and the wonderful story of the gospel of Jesus. God has given us His church - a family of believers - for many reasons. One of which, I believe, is to serve together. To each give a piece of our orange, that those around us may eat and be filled too.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
~ John 15:12-13 ~
Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay.