Many years ago a man in Kansas City made a choice to give away some cash. It was a choice that changed his life and the lives of thousands of others. The Associated Press reported that for the next 27 years, a man known only as Secret Santa roamed the streets every December quietly giving people money. He starated with $5 and $10 bills. As his fortune grew, so did the gifts. In more recent years, Secret Santa handed out $100 bills, sometimes two or three at a time, to people in thrift stores, diners and parking lots. He anonymously ended up giving out about $1.3 million. It all began when he was fired from his job just days before Christmas in 1979. As he was wallowing in self-pity in a drive-in restaurant he noticed that the car hop didn't have on a very warm jacket and it was very cold outside. So he gave her a $20 bill and told her to keep the change. Her lips began to tremble and tears began to flow down her cheeks. She said, "Sir, you have no idea what this means to me." He was so deeply touched the he decided to go to the bank that very day and withdraw $200, then drove around looking for people who could use a lift. He said, "That was my Christmas present to myself." But not too long ago Larry Stewart died from complications caused by esophageal cancer. He was only fifty-eight years old.
Stewart spoke often to community groups about his devotion to kindness and tried to inspire others to donate their time and money. "That's what we're here for," he said, "to help others." As a follower of Jesus Christ I think Stewart has it half right when he notes that we are here to help others. The religious scholars asked Jesus one time about what life should look like and Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39).
I challenge you to try Larry Stewart's experiment. Go buy yourself a gadget or outfit. Note the reading on your personal joy meter. Then go give money to a desperate mom trying to make ends meet. Or give some cash to an elderly couple who can't pay ther heating bill. Or deliver a Christmas gift to a child who woul dlnot receive gifts any other way. Then see which action has give you the most joy. ZLarry Stwart learned that lesson. And you can too.
Sometimes we wait too late to say, "I love you," or "please forgive me," or "Thank you." William Stedger was a businessman who experienced a shattering emotional breakdown. His energies were depleted. He was depressed. He sought help but still did not progress. One day an insightful friend asked him, 'When was the last time you singled out one of your acquaintances who has been gracious to you and expressed appreciation to him?" That question annoyed him at first, but he went home that evening and in the isolation of his living room he selected some stationery and, for the first time in two decades, he remembered a high school English teacher. He had not even thought of her in years, but she had taken an interest in him. She had helped him to discover a love for poetry he didn't know he had. She imagined that he might be worth something after all. He wrote her a simple letter expressing his gratitude.
Three days later a letter came from her. In the tremulous handwriting of a long retired teacher she wrote, "My eyes are blinded with tears as I write. You are the first student in all my career who has ever written me a letter to express thanks." She continued, "I will keep it as long as I live." With her response to this letter in mind, he thought of someone else. And so he wrote another letter and another. He didn't even notice when he got well, as he discovered the joy of expressing his love and gratitude to others. This Christmas accept the lesson of Mr. Stedger as a personal challenge. Think of someone who has been gracious to you, perhaps someone you have never responded to before, and buy him a little gift or card to express your appreciation for whatever it was he did. Then see if this Christmas doesn't take on a littl ebirghter luster.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship