A meditation delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, December 24, 2013
Luke 2:1-20 KJV
It was early afternoon on Christmas Eve. And it was a cold Christmas Eve at that. The country roads were already covered with a cottony blanket of freshly fallen snow. Big, white flakes were still coming down. Later in the afternoon, our family would be going to my maternal grandparents’ house for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner and gift exchange. We all looked forward to Christmas Eve at my grandparents. It was the one time of the year when all the family got together. My grandmother always prepared a Christmas feast—turkey and ham with all the trimmings, candied sweet potatoes, green beans, homemade rolls, and pumpkin pies for dessert. And my grandmother took her Christmas shopping seriously and made sure that everyone there had a gift to open after dinner. But it was yet too early in the afternoon for going to grandparents. Other things had to be done first.
“Randy, would you like to go to the store?” my dad asked, as he zipped up his winter coat. The country store is one mile from my boyhood home, and is situated at the community crossroads opposite the cemetery and white-framed church. The country store had always held—and still holds today—a special fondness for my dad. The historic building was built at the turn of the 20th century by my great-grandfather Hammer and my grandfather and his brothers. Men of the community gathered at the country store to loaf, drink soda pop, shoot the breeze, and play an occasional game of checkers.
I was more than anxious to go along. The fact that it was Christmas Eve made the trip all the more enticing. I suspected that my dad intended on this occasion to buy some stocking stuffers—candy bars, fruits, and nuts—when he thought I might not be looking. My suspicion would later prove to be correct. Quickly I grabbed my coat and cap and prepared to face the winter cold. Off to the car we went.
We had not traveled a quarter of a mile when we came upon a hitchhiker walking along the right side of the road. My dad recognized the face. It was Hank, a poor and unlearned man of the community who worked as he could as a farmhand. Hank was known to drink and carouse a bit. He did not drive or own a car. Thus, he often walked for miles to reach his destination, trying to catch a ride along the way as he could. Hank struggled through life, getting by the best he could.
As my dad slowed the car to a stop, he said, “Let’s pick up Hank. It’s too cold for anyone to be out walking today.” Dad asked me to roll down my window. “Want a ride?” my dad yelled out the window, leaning over me. Hank accepted the ride without hesitation. So I scooted over to the middle of the seat, and Hank slid in beside me.
Once he was inside the car, I noticed that Hank’s hands were cracked from working in the cold. His face had been reddened by the biting winter wind. Hank and my dad struck up a conversation about the weather and whether we were going to have a deep snow for Christmas.
I realized that there was more at work here than the mere offer of a ride. There was in that car that day an atmosphere of acceptance, a sense of human commraderie, a realization that all of us are travelers through life who need a lift every now and then.
Before long, we arrived at the country store. The present ride had ended. Hank got out and went in with us. After warming himself by the fire of the pot-bellied stove, Hank disappeared into the wintry afternoon, at the mercy of another kind-hearted traveler.
That Christmas Eve experience provided me with a new perspective on my dad. And it has stuck with me, lo, these past 50 years.
But that Christmas Eve experience also served as a living example of the true spirit of Christmas. It taught me something about Christmas love, the way it ought to be. Love had moved my father to reach out to one who was branded by many in the community as being rough and undesirable; someone who clung to the very fringes of society.
But such, you see, constitutes the very heart of Luke’s Christmas story. As Luke tells it, Jesus was born on the fringes of society, a peasant into a peasant family for all the peasants of the world! The message is proclaimed through Luke’s angel who declares to the shepherds keeping watch over their flock, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Of all people of that day and time, the shepherds were among the lowliest. The good news came first to them and is for all in the world like them. The shepherds become a metaphor, or a prototype, standing for all the overlooked, scorned, forgotten masses of the world.
Yes, the Christmas glad tidings are that God’s gift of grace, God’s boundless love, and God’s radical acceptance are for all the shepherds and all the hitchhiking Hanks of the world. In other words, for all of us. Amen.