The small boy was obviously lost. Standing in the shopping mall with crowds of people rushing by, he looked terribly anxious, glancing all around for a familiar face. It was Christmastime and the worst time of year to be in the midst of a rushing crowd, disconnected from a family member. Yet, standing beside The Salvation Army’s Christmas kettle, I could see what he could not—an elderly man standing not far away with eyes fixed on the boy. I thought to myself that this was his grandfather. Sure enough, their eyes met and the older man ran to embrace the boy. “You thought you were lost, didn’t you? Well, I knew where you were all the time.” No scolding of the boy for wandering off. No embarrassing lecture in front of strangers. No reprimand of any sort.
For so many people, Christmastime only accentuates their sense of lostness—of being alone in the crowd. The emphasis on family, happy memories, celebration and giving just reminds them of their isolation and that life has not been like that for them. Perhaps that is why The Salvation Army has made Christmas a major focus of its year. Perhaps that is why we arrange special meals in the community, Christmas assistance and the giving of toys. We want to replace the sense of loss or meet the urgent need and display the spirit of Christmas in the most practical ways.
Yet in spite of all we do, we cannot fix broken lives or heal the deep wounds of the heart. Sometimes we are surprised to discover that the people who feel most lost in this Christmas maze are not the economically strapped. Sometimes the hurting, broken, lonely and lost are actually the ones who appear to have it all together.
The Bible tells a story of such a man—Zacchaeus. He was actually very prosperous. However, his profession as a tax collector ostracised him. But Jesus, like the doting grandfather, saw where he was all the time and connected with him in a life-changing way. When criticised by the people because he was having a bite to eat with a “sinner” like Zacchaeus, Jesus declared emphatically that he had come into the world to seek and to save the lost (see Luke 19:10).
Zacchaeus changed from the scheming deceiver that he was to a generous, responsible citizen. Why? Not because he was publicly shamed, reprimanded or made to feel like an outsider, but because Jesus was on the lookout for him. He gave him a sense of dignity. He knew he could be different.
It is so important that we don’t get carried away with nostalgia when it comes to the Christmas story. We can romanticise the scene of Jesus’ birth and miss the power of its message. God took on human flesh, moved into our neighbourhood and spent his life in search of those who needed to reconnect with their Maker.
Maybe some of us would never admit to being a lost soul, but we would admit to a loss of our idealism, values, faith or hope. Maybe we would even venture to admit that we have lost much of our love for ourselves or others. It’s not something we declare to everyone. We may feel like the young boy, unnoticed by the crowd but frantically needing to be found. Well, friends, Christmas is about the coming of the Saviour of the world—the loving Saviour—the one who searches out lost people, embraces them and gives them the best sense of belonging they could ever imagine.
General Linda Bond is the international leader of The Salvation Army.