Christmas is a time of miracles. I’m not referring to some schmaltzy old Hollywood movie, but to my experience serving with The Salvation Army during the Christmas period. Practical miracles happen that delight and surprise, and even change people’s lives.
My Christmas gift to myself is to dust off an old brass instrument and stand on a street corner, in a shopping mall or inside the walls of a correctional facility as part of a Salvo band. I love to witness the pure joy on people’s faces as they pause their frenzy of buying and eating and simply stop to enjoy the carols.
Around 15 years ago while volunteering for The Salvation Army Youth Outreach Service in Brisbane, I met a young woman called Amber* and her partner Jake. They were down from the country and were struggling with homelessness on the seamy, steamy summer streets of the inner city. That’s normally a huge challenge, but Amber was also eight and a half months pregnant at the time.
In the Bible the Christmas story refers to Mary as being ‘great with child’ as she arrived in Bethlehem with Joseph. The term was also an appropriate description of diminutive Amber. The Salvos scrambled our resources together to provide the young couple with some safe accommodation, food and baby goods.
As Christmas Day approached and we had to deal with the impending closure of services that could be of assistance, Amber and her man fell off our radar. Concerned for their welfare, our workers and the closely-knit homeless community started a thorough search of all of the usual squats, but to no avail.
On Christmas Eve the Royal Women’s Hospital called to tell us that Amber had been transferred there after having given birth earlier that day. The precious baby boy had been born in a large cardboard box in a car park at the back of the Fortitude Valley Railway Station.
Once again Mary came to mind, giving birth in a cowshed and nestling the infant Jesus in an animal feedbox. Just as there was ‘no room in the inn’ for Mary and Joseph, there had been no appropriate accommodation for Amber and Jake.
They took it all in their stride and appreciated the parade of proud members of the homeless community visiting the maternity ward to see ‘their baby’ in scenes reminiscent of the shepherds paying tribute to the family in the barn.
That was special enough, but the real Christmas miracle materialised when some accommodation finally opened up later that day and the new family had a roof over their heads for Christmas and beyond.
Perhaps our nostalgia and emotions mean that we are just a little more open at Christmas time for the possibilities of miracles, especially as we reflect on God ‘becoming flesh’ as Jesus Christ, a vulnerable human baby, and what that means for the world. Either way, miracles happen.
Look out for miracles this Christmas. You may be surprised where they turn up.