People walked by him as if they couldn’t even hear his pleas for assistance, each dismissive passerby justifying in their own way why it was OK to deny help to this stranger among them. The look on their faces spoke volumes about the thoughts rolling about in their heads — the blank stares — their focus on anything but the “elephant” on the street; each person encouraged in their own neglect by the decisions of everyone around them to do the same.
I could picture the scene perfectly as my husband described it to me during dinner that evening. He had been in the city earlier that day for work and found himself in that situation we all like to think we would handle in the best way, but too often, our fears win out over our better intentions. My husband looked past all concern and approached the gentleman asking for help with directions.
He was eighty years old, his strong accent proof of his foreign descent. He was a bit disheveled, his poor appearance exaggerated by the effects of aging and his current state of confusion. My husband quickly learned that he was in need of finding his way to the registry of motor vehicles. With the gift of fifteen minutes of his time, Joe managed to walk this gentleman a few blocks to the right building. He accompanied him inside to be sure this new acquaintance of his knew where he needed to go and then left his side with a friendly invitation to visit him at his restaurant if he were ever in the area.
As the parent of two teenage boys and one feisty seven-year-old daughter, I can’t help but feel like a pendulum swinging between the need for direction and wisdom and doing my best to dole out the latter to these vulnerable children of mine. All too often my husband and I are that man on the street, struggling to find our way through these exciting, confounding, exhausting and priceless years. The start of the Advent season always leaves me looking back on the past year and taking stock of where we are. Within our own little family, we’ve been busy, but the busy has been good. We are healthy and are rich in love and the blessing of family. With grateful hearts, we recognize the many times we were greeted by the assistance of a neighbor, the encouragement of a friend and the undeniable presence of God walking beside us.
Of course we need only look beyond ourselves to acknowledge the immense suffering our neighbors have endured in a year that carried one natural disaster after another and saw devastating disregard for human life at the hand of what can only be described as evil. I’ve received one too many emails with helpful advice about how to talk with our children about terrorism, death and loss. It’s easy to want to turn into ourselves and do everything we can to hide from the outside world. I’d submit, in one way or another, we have all been that man on the street searching for direction in a world that feels excessively hard to navigate. In the midst of it all, I can’t help but think that this is what Christmas is all about; an invitation to be guided by the star, to come home to the manger, refocus our lives on the hope within the child who is humble enough to lie among the animals, peaceful enough to calm the most anxious heart and strong enough to shine light in the darkest of moments.
When I take the time to stop and meditate on the manger scene, I’m reminded that Jesus came into a world that has always been saturated in sin, despair and full of children frantically searching for direction. Our hope today is the same hope that greeted the world all those years ago with the cry of a baby from the manger. We can trust that Jesus will never keep His head down and walk by us in our moments of need. In Him we can find our rest and find our way home to the peace and joy of this advent season.
Copyright 2017 Nicole Johnson