Christmas Message: A Time to Reflect
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope”
Recently my wife and I were at the Mission Inn for the Festival of Lights. After enjoying a nice dinner, we stood outside with thousands of people as the countdown began for the turning on of the three and a half million lights that would light up the Inn. This was immediately followed by a spectacular fireworks display. People around us were in awe! Children were exuberant! As we walked down Main Street with its trees all lit up, people were standing in line everywhere waiting to do some creative dining and/or unique shopping. Others were filling their bellies with hotdogs or kettle corn. The outdoor ice-skating rink was filled with youngsters slipping and sliding, having a blast, while the older generation was enjoying listening to a chorus singing Christmas songs. Families and friends seemed to be having a great time together. It was a very joyful evening for my wife and I. In fact, the entire event was filled with life.
When it came time to leave later in the evening, I decided to drive by Fairmont Park. I wanted to show my wife the location where Riverside Police Officer Ryan Bonaminio was shot and killed while on duty. Not too far from where Ryan died was a Memorial site that people had set up in his memory. At the site was a telephone pole with Ryan’s picture stapled to it, as well as notes people had written. On the ground below were a good number of lighted candles, along with many flowers that were now beginning to wilt and die.
I began to reflect upon where my wife and I had just come from and where we were now. I reflected on the “past” and on the “present.” I thought about the Mission Inn, all lit up, surrounded by thousands of people with Christmas excitement and anticipation, and then my mind was brought back to a telephone pole with flowers and a few candles; my wife and I, the only ones in attendance. We had come from a place filled with life to a place that reminded us of the brevity of life. I began thinking of the people over at the Inn, who were enjoying a great meal together; and was then struck with the reality that Ryan’s precious family would have an empty chair at the Christmas table this year. Yet, I am also very much aware that Ryan’s family is not the only family that has been impacted by death. Families everywhere will have one less chair; a place once filled by a special person seated at the table this Christmas.
I’m mindful of the Christmas song, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, written in the mid-18th century. The first chorus says, “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember, Christ, our Savior was born on Christmas day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. O tidings of comfort and joy.” It’s a beautiful and truthful song, but the reality is—This Christmas season and every Christmas season is a season of comfort and joy for many, but, it is also a season of sadness and sorrow for many others.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas, let us remember that Christ came to offer comfort to the brokenhearted, along with joy and hope to the lonely. In just a couple of weeks, people all around the world will be looking forward to celebrating Christmas. Some will not. If life has been going well for you; if you have been experiencing God’s comfort and joy, I am happy for you. However, I encourage all of us this Christmas season to be mindful and aware of people in need of God’s comfort and joy, and let’s do all what we can to share it with them. The best way we can do that is by letting them know they are never alone, and that God is always there to fill not only that empty chair, but that empty heart.
“And they shall call His name, Immanuel, which translated means, ‘God with us’”