In the Gospel of John we are told: “Christ was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him!” (John 1:10)
It was nine years ago. I wrote it down. I wrote it down because writing is one of the ways I process information and reflect on life. Yet, even without the script, I suspect the memory will be forever remembered. Some things you simply don’t forget.
On December 6, 2007, I flew from Austin to Tulsa to visit my mother. It was Mother’s 82nd birthday. I wanted to be there. I wanted to share time with her. Dad had died earlier that year. As it turned out, Mother was placed in a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients about a month before Dad’s death. The facility was near my brother’s home. My brother’s daughter is a registered nurse. Since my niece promised to check on Mother daily, Dad gave permission for Mother’s care until he could get well and reassume the responsibility himself.
Of course, because of Mother’s illness, I anticipated that she would not be fully aware of the day or it’s significance. It was important to me to be with her even if she didn’t have the cognitive ability to know I was there. At least, that was the theory, but sometimes theory and practice can be worlds apart.
As I feared, when Mother saw me (or perhaps more appropriately, when I saw her) there was not even a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. Despite the lack of recognition, I did everything imaginable in an attempt to communicate and connect. I even sang Happy Birthday to her. I felt like a nut singing to my mother. She was in a large open assembly room full of strangers. I concluded that if they were in the same shape as Mother, they wouldn’t remember it or me either, so I actually sang the song to her twice. Despite my best efforts to be animated, funny and engaging, there was virtually no response.
Although I thought I was emotionally prepared for the encounter, the experience or painful realization that I was no longer of significance in her world was upsetting. Consequently I didn’t sleep very soundly that night. Actually I didn’t sleep at all. I tossed and turned and spent most of the night in thoughtful contemplation.
As you might imagine, I thought about that experience over the next several days. It definitely colored my perception of Christmas that year. “Okay, God, what am I supposed to learn from this?” is one of the questions I asked. In so doing, there was a life-lesson in the experience for me. It took little effort for the message to be crystal clear.
The term Christmas literally means “the worship of Christ.” And yet for many, our focus regarding the Christmas holiday is anything other than an act of worship. The visit with my mother on her birthday was upsetting to me because I was no longer a part of her world. But what if the scenario had been reversed?
- What if my Mother had been fully present on her birthday?
- What if she had been the one who was mentally alert?
- What if she had been emotionally present?
- What if when I walked into the room she recognized me immediately, embraced me as her son, expressed her delight at my presence and I was the one who didn’t have the cognitive ability to recognize her or to communicate with her or to express love?
- What if every effort she made to connect with me was met with a blank stare and lack of recognition?
If our roles were reversed, her response would have mirrored the one I experienced when she had no recognition of me. She would have been greatly saddened and disturbed from the experience.
In the Christian world, in theory, we celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Christ, but in reality do we really? Do we even recognize Him? Do we focus on how different our lives are because of the gift of His love?
Do we recognize him? How do you factor that recognition in with the words found in Matthew 25: 35-40: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy expresses the same thought in his poem entitled “Indifference” or “When Jesus Came To Golgotha”:
When Jesus came to Golgotha
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns;
Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham,
They simply passed Him by;
They never hurt a hair of Him,
They only let Him die.
For men had grown more tender,
And they would not give Him pain;
They only just passed down the street,
And left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them,
For they know not what they do.”
And still it rained the winter rain
That drenched Him through and through.
The crowds went home and left the streets
Without a soul to see;
And Jesus crouched against a wall
And cried for Calvary.
We exchange gifts at Christmas. Isn’t the Gift of Christmas an “exchanged life?” I like the way Max Lucado expresses it: “He can no more leave a life unchanged than a mother can leave a tear untouched. His plan for you is nothing short of a new heart. If you were a car, God would want to control your engine. If you were a computer, God would claim the software and the hard drive. If you were an airplane, he’d take his seat in the cockpit. But you are a person, so God wants to change your heart. God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you there. He wants you to have a heart like his. He wants you to be just like Jesus”.
If Christmas is to be Christmas, we must recognize him, connect with him, serve him, and love him.
All My Best!