There's been a bit of a shift in our culture, and it's for the better, regarding this. It used to be that loving, well-meaning, good people would show up on the poor's doorstep with an armful of food and presents on Christmas morning and proceed to give the poverty-stricken a "good" Christmas. And while there's not a lot wrong with that, there is one thing severely wrong with that: it takes the poor man out of it.
Say that the poor man has children, and say that his children see the do-gooders bring Christmas. Say that his children see the tears in his eyes. Those are tears of thankfulness, yes, but also tears of brokenness because the well-meaning have just put the final nail in the coffin: the poor man can't even give good gifts. He can't even make Christmas for his own children. And in the face of all this charity, everyone knows it - the poor man, his children, and the well-meaning. This becomes the dominant message of his Christmas, that he is a lesser man.
The shift that's been taking place, and it begins to include dignity in the Christmas gift, is that more and more charities and well-meaning persons are creating a way whereby the poor man gets to pick out his children's gifts. He gets to take them home in his own arms. He gets to set them out Christmas morning. And his kids get to look at him with joy in their eyes.
He gets to walk through the food pantry and pick his own Christmas meal. He gets to carry bags of groceries into his house from his own arms. He gets to put cans and boxes in the pantry, gets to put milk and eggs in the fridge. He gets to set the table. And his kids get to look at him with full bellies and fuller smiles.
That's what Christmas is about for the poor man. It's not about giving him the chance to have something; it's about giving him the chance to be something. It's about giving him the chance not to receive good gifts, but to give them. It's about giving him the chance to do for himself by the kindness of others. It gives him the chance to think more of himself.
That's the miracle Christ was talking about when He talks about the miracle of the poor. Those who were once kept at a distance by circumstance are drawn right into the very thick of things. Not by charity. No, anyone can give charity. This is more meaningful. They are drawn into the very thick of things by dignity. They are given back to themselves for the chance to give themselves into a bigger story, a story that no longer exists apart from them but instead has set aside a part for them. A role that only they can play.
And that's what Jesus does for him. He doesn't simply give the poor man Christmas; He doesn't give a man a chance to hold, for the briefest of moments, the Good News. He gives a man a reason to believe in Christmas; the Good News is his to keep. By the grace of God, in the shadow of the Good News, a poor man finds himself able. He can. He is. He is more than he ever was, even though he's the same as he's always been.
As we think about the gifts that we give this season, particularly the ones we give to the poor man, we have to think about such things. How are we giving the gift? Are we giving him a gift that makes him, and everyone around him, focus on his brokenness? Or are we giving him a gift that enables him to be more of a man, even though he's the same as he's always been?
Secret: Give a good gift, and the poor man is never the same as he's always been. Give him a reason to think he might be more, and he will be. Give him one fleeting experience of being able and he'll start to wonder what he's capable of. Give him back to himself and you give him a chance to give of himself.
I love that we're starting to get this right in our world. I love that we're starting to give less charity and more dignity. I love that the more we think about the miracle of Christmas, the less we're willing to let a man simply hold it for a day. The more we think about the miracle of Christmas, the more concerned we are with giving a man something to believe in.
Himself. As a fearfully and wonderfully made child of God and an irreplaceable character in His story.