I had become a member of the local Salvation Army board, and I was excited to have an opportunity to get out into the field and bring in dollars via the organization’s primary fundraising source – the familiar red Christmas kettles.
I remember the feeling of purpose that came with putting on that apron and picking up that golden bell. It was like the sound of the ringing represented the cry of the poor to all who could hear. I memorized the words that went with the campaign, ‘Need Knows No Season.’ It was my first chance as an adult to serve, to really serve the Lord in a tangible way as part of His army – in this instance, the Salvation Army.
There was something so exciting about knowing that what I was doing that day was going to help someone else in the year to come. Maybe it would be a single mom who couldn’t afford her heat bill. Or a family whose home had burned to the ground and needed a place to stay for the night. Or a homeless man looking for food or shelter. I couldn’t give these people the money they needed, but I could give them my time.
So I did. And many years since, I have continued.
Every time I ring the bells, that same excitement is stirred within me. This year, my thoughts went to people I had an opportunity to minister to in the past year. There was a young single mother, pregnant, in the hospital, facing a desperate situation. A homeless couple playing a banjo outside a local hotel. At least a dozen dirty, weathered faces holding up signs outside an area grocery store, hoping for a hot meal or a cold drink of water. Several of these people told me they were receiving help that day from the Salvation Army.
As people dropped their coins and bills in my kettle this weekend, I couldn’t help but see the faces of these people – God’s own people – the very people who the Salvation Army serves and you and I are called to serve, love and care for.
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
Did you hear that? “Then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.”
When we go to battle for the Lord, He has our back.
Isn’t it exhilarating to think that even the smallest thing we can do will cause our light – HIS light – to break forth like the dawn, drowning out the darkness and despair inherent to poverty right here in our own communities? Isn’t it empowering to know that we can live as children of the light, as we are called in Ephesians 5:8?
As a people, it is our tendency to stay back and shy away from the battle for justice in this world. There is so much poverty, so much pain, how can one person make a difference?
That pregnant mom in the hospital will tell you. So will that homeless couple at the hotel. And the countless sign-bearers.
This Christmas season, I challenge you to look around you. Find that place where you might be able to shine Christ’s light for someone in need.
For some of you, that might mean ringing the bells for the Salvation Army. (I guarantee you, wherever you are right now, there are plenty of time slots to be filled between now and Christmas.)
For others, that might mean putting money in the kettle.
Or maybe you’ll notice other ways to give or serve.
One thing is certain, the need is out there. It is in your backyard. Going to school with your kids. Skimming your dumpsters for food. Shivering on the streets or in substandard housing. Hopping a coal train to your town.
How can you respond?
Deuteronomy 15:7 “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.”
Psalm 140:12 “I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.”
Isaiah 25:4 “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.
Psalm 41:1 “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble.”
Isaiah 58:10 “And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”