One of my most vivid memories of Christmas was from the first year that my mom’s circle at First Lutheran Church in Duluth, MN served dinner on Christmas Eve at the Union Gospel Mission. Most of the ladies brought their husbands and a few brought their kids. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I didn’t anticipate making a memory that would stay with me and change me the way it did.
In the mid-70’s the people the mission served were mostly men and everyone called them “bums” or “winos.” No one really talked about where they lived, just that they could be found downtown in the alleys around 1st Street. They were the lowly of our society. As the adults got the food prepared, we youth set up the dining room then scurried back to the kitchen when it was time for the people to come in. Our pastor gave a Christmas message, then the most frightening bunch of men I had ever seen got to their feet to retrieve their plate of food from the window. It was also the youth’s job to go out and fill coffee and water pitchers, and bus abandoned plates. I remember the smell. I remember the eerie quiet noise of silverware on plates as the room ate their food. Then someone began to play carols on the old piano and the quiet was replaced by singing. This wasn’t a Hallmark movie so the voices were off key and the smell of unwashed bodies hung in the room, but the spirit of Christmas was present. A man approached me and thanked me for the food then said, “God bless you.” I wished him a Merry Christmas. Emboldened, I spoke to a few more. They no longer looked frightful, just haunted and sad. But there were a few smiles and more “God bless you’s” as they returned to the cold December night. We went home after that to our own dinner, gifts and the candlelight service at church. I don’t remember what gifts I received that year or even who was gathered at my house.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. Luke 1:52-53
These lines from the Magnificat tell us that the lowly are blessed and the hungry will be filled. Jesus himself entered the world in the lowliest of places and spent most of his ministry hanging out with the “bums” and “winos” of his time. In the midst of Advent, this time of waiting, in the midst of a pandemic, of separation, I hope to keep the memory of the Union Gospel Mission to help me appreciate all that I have rather than what I can’t have, this year.
Holy God, Word made flesh, we pray that your joyous light touch our lives this Christmas season. Amen.
To the Writers
of this devotional: