Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, I think I met Jesus. Twice.
I had been excited about the day because we were surprising our Nozomi staff with a year-end bonus. From what I’ve heard from our manager and others, this is virtually unheard of in Japan for part-time workers. We knew it would really bless our staff, many of whom struggle daily to make ends meet. One of our single mother staff, M.,* had just told me that she and her two kids couldn’t get away to the hot springs overnight like they usually do during New Year’s because of finances. I was excited for M. and the other women to be blessed with this financial surprise before the holidays.
After the announcement and a fun Christmasy lunch time (photo above), I was saying goodbye to M. with a little hug, when she suddenly burst into tears in my arms. She was embarrassed as others were nearby – I whisked her into our side room and she just started weeping. We both knelt on the floor and cried together. There is much that is very challenging in her life; she is caring for many others in her life right now. She is weary, with no time to care for her own needs and not enough to care for her children. But she said, “I do have ten minutes alone each night when I get in the ofuro (Japanese bath) before my kids come in. And so during that time I pray to God. I know He hears me.” We talked about God’s presence in her life. She shared that each time she feels like she cannot go on, that God suddenly brings someone along to help lighten the load. Like this day.
M. shared her desire to know Jesus more. We talked, and in that span of thirty minutes M. opened up her heart to the Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace to come and reside. She is hopeful – and with real Reason. Emmanuel, I truly believe, has come to her.
At the end of the day I was doing some last minute errands in sleeting rain/snow, with two kids and a sick dog in tow (on the way to the vet), and needed to drop by two of our staff homes. It was already late and I admit to going reluctantly. In the darkness I followed the directions to the home of one of our Nozomi staff, Y., who hasn’t come in many months. But we wanted her to have her Christmas bonus and a few other gifts we have prepared.
Y. hasn’t been able to leave her home in months because of struggles with depression and other challenges since the tsunami. I was told she may not be willing to see me, but I knew I could at least pass her gifts to a family member.
She came out to the entranceway, and burst into tears. She couldn’t stop crying. She received the gifts with such tender gratitude, we talked quietly, and she shared her desire to come back soon to join us at Nozomi.
I remember my sister Beth sharing about her visit in India to the Sisters of Calcutta. Whenever a sick, homeless person was brought in on a stretcher to be cared for in their hospital, everyone would gather around and yell out, “here comes Jesus!”
Last night, while wrapping gifts for our children, I couldn’t stop thinking about these two dear women. And it suddenly occurred to me – that in that day, with all its busyness, that Jesus had managed to visit me. Twice. He came in the form of M. and Y., two women with different needs. Much more than giving out Christmas bonuses, I was so affected by these two women and their tears. Something happens when we empty ourselves to meet others where they are at… we meet Jesus.
I was hungry, and you fed me.
I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.
I was a stranger, and you took me in.
We forget this truth, I think… that we find Jesus when we kneel with the brokenhearted, or take in the stranger. And suddenly it is all reversed — I am not the savior (small s) — but she becomes the One who touches my heart – changes it even – in an inexplicable way. The one with the need becomes the minister. God switches things up when we take even small steps to care for the wounded in our midst. I don’t claim to understand it all, but the inconveniences and interruptions quickly become forgotten when we see with our hearts that perhaps, yes, Jesus is in our midst.
I read this recently in an Advent devotional – profound words from the Catholic theologian Dorothy Day:
In Christ’s human life, there were always a few who made up for the neglect of the crowd. The shepherds did it; their hurrying to the crib atoned for the people who would flee from Christ. The wise men did it; their journey across the world made up for those who refused to stir one hand’s breadth from the routine of their lives to go to Christ…. The women at the foot of the Cross did it too, making up for the crowd who stood by and sneered.
We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in everyone we come in contact with….If that is the way they gave hospitality to Christ, then certainly it is the way it should still be given. Not for the sake of humanity. Not because it might be Christ who stays with us, comes to see us, takes up our time. Not because these people remind us of Christ… but because they are Christ, asking us to find room for him, exactly as he did at the first Christmas.
It is Christmas, after all … I don’t want to miss Him in our midst.
*I’ve changed even the initials and some of the details to protect the identity of my friends.