Once again, it’s Christmas—the season of merriment, goodwill, and cheer. For most, it’s a time for family and friends, and a time to reflect on the year gone by.
For believers, it’s the time we commemorate God’s gift to us—the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ (Luke 2:11-12). And just like how God showed love to us by giving us His son, we show our love to family and friends by giving them gifts.
Growing up in a northern Nigerian community, we have a tradition of preparing delicious delicacies such as a crunchy deep-fried snack known as chin-chin, cakes, donuts, meat pies, fried chicken and beef and other dishes in the lead up to Christmas. To show God’s love, we would wake up in the wee hours of Christmas morning to cook rice or some other dish, and deliver the piping hot food to our non-Christian neighbors and friends. They, in turn, would share food with us during their religious celebrations.
But how many of us extend this kindness to absolute strangers? And why not? This Christmas, how about making a conscious effort to show love to a stranger? Sure, there are countless ways, but here are five “gifts” that I think could help get us started.
1. The Gift Of Grace
As Christians, we are called to be gracious at all times—what more during the Christmas season? After all, this is the season we commemorate Jesus’ birth, God’s ultimate gift of grace to us (Ephesians 2:8).
So let’s try our best to exercise more grace and patience. To the person who interrupts our sentences, hold our tongues and respond with words of kindness. To the one who cuts our queue at the grocery store or into our lane on the road, let them pass and let our grievances go. To those who have offended us, whether it’s at work, in public, or at gatherings—let’s be quick to forgive them.
2. The Gift Of Giving
Some of us may already be involved in donating to charities and the less privileged on a regular basis. But how about paying a visit to an orphanage or old folks’ home?
Get involved in your local church’s charity drive. Donate blankets and warm food to those who have none. Remember, Jesus himself cared for the physical needs of 5,000 strangers (Mark 6:30-34).
3. The Gift of Prayer
The Bible tells us to pray for each other, and that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Maybe you tried to offer a word of encouragement or a gift that ended up being rejected despite your best efforts. In such instances, we can still pray for that person.
Pray for the hearts of those who have not received the good news of salvation, pray for the man you saw crying on the street on your way home, pray for your friend’s boyfriend’s uncle that you heard about but have never met, and pray for your leaders and the peace of your nation.
4. The Gift of Service
While we can show love to strangers by giving physical items such as gifts and money, we can also show love by serving others. There are several verses in the Bible that encourage us to serve others (e.g. Phil 2: 5-7; 2 Cor 4:5; Mark 9:35; Gal 5:13). Jesus himself came to this world to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45).
Serving strangers can come in many forms. It can be as simple as helping an old woman cross the street, stopping at the side of the road to help someone change his car tire, or offering a ride to someone on your way home. It could also be helping out in church or joining a group of friends to hand out food and warm clothing to the homeless on the street.
5. The Gift of Time
Most of us know how precious time is—once it’s gone, we can never get it back. And with our never-ending list of responsibilities, no one seems to have time for anyone anymore. Giving time may therefore be one of the most precious ways we can show love to a stranger.
It could be taking the time and effort to get to know our neighbors over the Christmas season, having a meal with a student we have seen on campus or a colleague from a different team, or inviting an acquaintance who has no family to spend Christmas with to your home. You could also be a listening ear to a distraught mother at the supermarket, or offer a shoulder to the person crying on the subway platform.
Jesus took the time to visit those despised by the religious institutions of His time. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and mourned with those who mourned. He prayed for His friends, enemies, and those He knew He would never meet during His brief physical sojourn on earth.
During the Christmas season, I have found joy in making the first move to start discussions with strangers—sometimes I use the opportunity to talk about the real reason for the season. Along with members of my local church, I’ve also visited homes for the elderly or the physically disabled to sing them Christmas carols.
To me, Christmas is the best time to emulate Jesus’ footsteps, as we give thanks for the Savior of the world who humbled himself to visit those who did not know Him (John 17:25-26), to make strangers His friends, and to reconcile the lost to God.
1) First published on YMI Today on 19 December 2016.