Advent Surprises

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Advent/Christmas surprises are among my favorite things. The giving and receiving of gifts, though capable of getting stressful and out-of-hand, can be a time of great joy among families and friends. Over the course of the last several years the trend has been for us adults/parents/relatives to give gift cards to our teenagers and older children. I’ll admit that I don’t like to do that. I much prefer to think about what I’m giving to someone and put in the effort. On the other hand, I have also failed miserably at times to choose a great gift—a fact that is immediately recognized by the look on the face of the victim—I mean, recipient. So the gift card route guarantees success on the part of the receiver, which should bring a good feeling to the giver.

More recently, my family has taken to less and less actual gifts given and more choosing of a worthy agency to which to make a donation. That brings joy, too.

My season this year is already off to a great start. Something pretty amazing happened here at the church last week. I imagine most of you are aware that we get a lot of calls and drop ins of folks who need all manner of assistance. Most of them are genuinely in need. Some of them are “professional beggars”. It isn’t easy having to make choices about whom to help with the available resources at our disposal. We can’t help them all. And many of them will gratefully receive our help with a promise to pay us back when they get on their feet. That happens about as frequently as a Halley’s Comet sighting.

Last week a woman came in. She was slight of build and a bit ruffled in her appearance—in other words she looked like someone in need of help. She asked to see a pastor and the staff told me we had someone in the lobby in need of help. I walked out to see her. She spoke with a thick eastern-European accent. I asked, “How can I help you?”

She handed me an envelope with a card inside. She explained that three years earlier she and her family had been in trouble, had come to the church to ask for help, and were given $500. The card inside the envelope contained $200 dollars that she wanted to give us. To pay back our kindness—or to pay it forward.

She gave me a firm hug and went her way.

That’s the kind of Advent/Christmas surprise that can make your season special.