A few weeks ago, I attended the Christmas With The Salvation Army event at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. It was an evening of glitz and glamour Army style with incredible music, drama and atmosphere. The intent was to create a setting in which we celebrate and pay tribute to our donors and volunteers who help make Christmas possible for individuals and families in more than 400 communities across the territory. As the territorial commander, I reveled in every moment. This was time well spent.
However, I found myself caught between two realities that challenge my heart. First are the words “Christmas with The Salvation Army” and how they contrast with the beautiful setting of Roy Thomson Hall. The second are the front-line initiatives through which The Salvation Army will provide countless Christmas dinners, food baskets and toys for every age.
I have been reflecting on what Christmas with “us” really looks like. Take Mike, for example. He is estranged from his wife, mostly due to mental health issues, and does not see his two boys very often. This year there will be a sleepover at his small apartment on Boxing Day. With few resources, little food and no gifts or tree, Mike is blown away by the challenge. Fortunately Mike knows the Salvation Army community and family services worker and a miracle takes place when he receives the materials needed to host his children. “Can you imagine my Christmas without The Salvation Army?” asks Mike.
Sarah lives alone and her small circle of friends disappears to spend the holiday with their families. Although this could be the loneliest time of the year for her, Sarah is only worried about the bus being available on Christmas Day. But one way or another, she will be at the Booth Centre by 7 a.m. That’s when they start peeling the vegetables. Later in the day, after hours of preparation, serving and cleaning up, Sarah will sit at a table with others and enjoy a turkey dinner, conversation with new friends and the opportunity to add one more mug filled with candy to her collection. The mug is a thank-you gift from the officer; she now has five on her shelf at home. What could have been a long day of loneliness is eclipsed by a full heart. Can you imagine Sarah’s Christmas without the Army?
John and Shelly and their three kids represent thousands of families who are turning to the Army today for support more than at any other time in our history. Whether facing economic hardship or the challenges that come with being new to Canada, many families struggle to access the resources they desperately need. Although John and Shelly love their kids and are doing their best to provide for them, decorations, toys and feasting aren’t within their grasp. Thank the Lord that this is where the Army kicks into high gear and helps turn parents into heroes so that their children have bright eyes, smiles, hugs and laughter.
Maybe a reporter will ask me what difference it would make if The Salvation Army was not around. I would love to give the answer. I would use the word “miracle” as often as possible.
In elaborate pageants and school plays, there will be noble attempts to capture the miracle of Christmas during this holy season. The manger will be pulled out, costumes dusted off and lines memorized so that a host of characters can dramatize the reason for Christmas. While I don’t mind that we glamorize the story, in reality the birth of the Christ Child to a young teenager, relegated to a cattle shed and then exiled to a country not her own, is the real Christmas story. But the theme of all these versions of the story remains true: Jesus came to the world. His gift to the world was salvation as he offered himself as the Saviour for all. Scripture proclaims in Luke 19:10 that the “Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
My heart skips a beat when I think of all that will be accomplished during Christmas. At the very centre of my prayer is a plea that people will see beyond our compassion and good works and catch a glimpse of the one who calls, motivates and requires us to serve in his name.
Commissioner Brian Peddle is the territorial commander of the Canada and Bermuda Territory. His favourite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World”. Click here to read his columns.