I would have helped if I had been there. We all think it from time to time. But too often for me, I confess that what I really mean is, I would have helped if I had known I’d get such bad press otherwise. I like to think that I would have opened my house to the Holy Family. I like to think that I would speak up to stop harassment one bus seat over or call out bigotry when it sneaks up on me in conversation. I like to think that I would have done differently and interfered for the good. But really, I like to think that I would be interviewed on the news about it later.
The innkeeper didn’t know it was the Lord he was turning away. We don’t usually get to help in big glamorous ways that are newsworthy. Usually the opportunity comes as a teenager with morning sickness and her exhausted fiance with sore feet from walking next to the donkey for hours. Maybe that’s what it means when Hebrews talks about entertaining angels without knowing it. Because usually, we don’t. Love isn’t glamourous or showy. It’s mundane and inconvenient. It’s as risky as letting a acquaintance sleep on your couch because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. As begrudging as giving up date night to give $40 to the local shelter that serves the man with the cardboard sign declaring his veteran status and asking for help.
I want it to be shinier. But it’s just the everyday little things that turn into habits that make us a person of love or not. Aristotle told us that a long time ago: “one swallow does not a summer make.” The appearance of one summertime songbird doesn’t mean it’s bikini season anymore than one grand gesture of charity makes me a charitable person. It’s about the boring little bits we weave into our everyday unnoticed goings on. Sure, the disciples only wrote down the details of their more dramatic ministry moments–healing the sick, debating the intellectual leaders in the town square, busting out of jail with the help of an angel–but those are snapshots. In between, there was a lot of sharing lunch with hungry neighbors and sleeping by the roadside with a rolled up tunic as pillow and just sitting and listening to hopeful strangers who needed someone to talk to.
Here’s the good news: that means you can be a disciple, too. You’re a person. You have routines, perhaps even boring ones. You see people everyday who need a little love, and you can show it right there in the midst of your commute or after school pick up or whatever it is you do with your average Tuesday. I can learn the cashiers name at Walgreens where I stop in to pick something up at least once a week. You can chat with the crossing guard at your kids school. You can thank the bus driver and hug your friends and pick up a happy for your sister just because it made you think of her. You can send a card to your grandparents or nieces and nephews. There are so many simple, boring ways you can preach the Good News that Christ is alive and love is too. It doesn’t have to be miraculously memorable. In fact, sometimes the smaller the better.
If you ask me to tell you about the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me, I will always talk about homecoming my sophomore year of high school. I didn’t have a date, but I didn’t care. I was going. It was my first homecoming, and I was determined to enjoy this much-anticipated high school experience. I invited my girlfriends over to get ready at my house, and I convinced one of them to let me ride along with her and her date to the dance. When the boys arrived to pick us all up, one of them had an extra corsage. It happened to match my dress. One of the boys from our group of friends called around and found out what color I was wearing and had an extra corsage sent over from “a secret admirer” because he didn’t want anything getting in the way of my enjoying the big night. He wasn’t going to have me feeling sad about being the only girl at the dance without a corsage. This story immediately prompted my mother to tear up and “adopt” him. I think he’s probably still on her top five favorite people list to this day. Mine too, actually, because this little act of kindness was so extravagantly unnecessary.
I would have been fine with a bare wrist that night. I honestly probably would not have noticed. It wasn’t like it was a basic human need or anything. It was non-essential and easily overlooked, not something one would feel obligated to provide like a meal for someone starving on the sidewalk. It required an extra measure of attentiveness to one another, beyond your run-of-the-mill human decency. The fact that someone thought about me and my happiness enough to ensure that I felt loved and included, well, that is something that stays with you my friends. It’s easy enough to do, but rare enough that when it happens, it makes an impact.
As my pastor friends like to say, “That’ll preach.”