At Christmas time, it’s pretty common to find an increase in warmth and desire to help others within ourselves and those around us. We make treats and deliver them up and down the street. We throw our change from grocery shopping into the red buckets outside the store doors. We sing carols, and we talk of Christ’s birth.
We even talk about the circumstances of his birth, in which Joseph and Mary were repeatedly turned away when they sought shelter in the nearby inns. Instead of delivering their Child in the relative comfort of a rented room, Mary gave birth to our Savior in what is essentially a barn.
And we think to ourselves, “If I had been there, I would have let them in.”
We think to ourselves, as well, that we would have been that good Samaritan who stopped to help the traveler who had been attacked by robbers and left by the side of the road. In this parable, both a priest and Levite (who assisted the priests), passed by. The teachings of the time considered that to be appropriate, as they were not to go out of their way to kill Gentiles, but also were under no religious obligation to save them if they were in danger of dying. But as Christ shows us, whether or not there is a religious obligation, there is a human obligation.
When Christ related this parable, it was because a lawyer had asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” after Christ had told the people to love their neighbor as they loved themselves. The lawyer was trying to figure out what the limits of this love were. Who he needed to love, and who he didn’t. Christ in turn shared the parable and then asked the lawyer who had been a neighbor to the battered traveler. “And he said ‘He that shewed mercy on him.’ Then said Jesus unto him, ‘Go and do thou likewise’” (Luke 10:37).
The lesson? Every man is our neighbor. Every woman. Every child. And we should love them as ourselves.
Does that include those without a place to lay their heads, like Joseph and Mary on that Holy Night? It does. Does that include those whom we legally have no obligation to help? It does. So, let us not forget the outcasts. Those who have been forgotten by others. The refugees. The immigrants. The homeless.
They are our neighbors. And we should love them as ourselves.
It is easy to say, “But they are not welcome here.” And yet, the easy path is not what Christ has required of us. He has taught us that each person is our neighbor, a child of our Heavenly Father, a brother or sister to us, and we are to love them as thoroughly and deeply as we love ourselves.
This summer I was privileged to spend a month in Romania and a month in Greece doing internships and volunteer work. In Romania I had the eye-opening, humbling experience of working with Roma (gypsies, or Romani) families who had been forced by the government to move to the municipal landfill. Yes. You read that right. The government moved these families, just before Christmas in 2010, to the city garbage dump. They still live there today, without resources, without water or electricity, and without addresses that would enable them to get legal documentation, including identification, work papers, and birth certificates for their children.
In Greece I worked with dozens of Yazidi refugee families in Serres through Lifting Hands International. These families have been terrorized by Da’esh (ISIS), seen family members murdered in a genocide that swept their region, and fled their homes in search of safety. It’s been three years, and they have traveled from Iraq to Turkey and on to Greece, seeking peace—a place to rest and call home, a place where they will find neighbors who will “go and do thou likewise.” They have found solace in Lifting Hands’ volunteers and staff, who truly show Christlike love to these families, serving them even in less-than-ideal circumstances.
These two groups of people are some of the most beautiful people I have ever met. Their humanity and their inherent divine nature shines through even in the desperation of their respective situations.
Let us shine, ourselves, as we #LightTheWorld by reaching out, not only to the neighbors we already know and like (or tolerate), but to those who have not received a warm welcome, here or abroad.
This year, seek out the marginalized, the oppressed, and the forgotten. Take time to love them as yourself. That means donating to organizations that can help them. Stopping to talk to them and get to know them. Learning their history and what brought them into the trying circumstances they are in now. Forgetting what you are only obligated to do, and seek to know what the Lord would have you do.
There are so many dark places in the world. So many people who need the light you can bring to them. Share that light. Share your joy. Your resources. You time and money. Seek out your neighbors, near and far. And love them as yourself.