Recently I stopped at the Mercer Island thrift store, my favorite shop in town. I was in search of a couple unique items to add to our “Santa Closet.” That’s what we call our guest bathroom when it is decorated with my collection of Santas. My trip was a success. In addition to a couple small miniature Santa figures, I found a reproduction of the original first edition copy of Clement C. Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas.” It was only 99 cents.
But before I left the store, my eyes locked on something I wasn’t expecting. What I saw caught me by surprise. To be honest, it was quite humbling. There on a shelf with other Christmas decorator items was a beautifully framed poem I had written.
The poem, illustrated by a calligrapher friend, was inspired by my favorite holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I loved the way it turned out. I loved it so much I had framed copies made that I sold (along with books I have written about the movie) when I’ve appeared at the annual “It’s a Wonderful Life Festival” in Seneca Falls, New York. That what locals call “the real Bedford Falls.”
But what was my framed poem doing in our local thrift store? Perhaps I had given it as a hostess gift when my wife and I were entertained at some home during the holidays. And because they didn’t like it as much as I did, they dropped it off with other unwanted items. Maybe I had given it to as a birthday present to a resident at the retirement community where I worked as chaplain. When that person passed away, it’s possible their family donated items to the local thrift store when emptying out the apartment.
Humbled by the reality that my gift had likely been discarded, I began to reflect on the how humility is baked into the message of the Christmas story. The teenage mother of Jesus was humbled when told she’d been chosen to give birth to the Son of God. Facing the scorn of townsfolk for being in the family way without the benefit of marriage was far more humbling then than it is today.
Likewise, Joseph was no doubt humiliated when he discovered his fiancé was pregnant. After all, he knew it couldn’t be his child. Swallowing his pride, he chose to stand with Mary although unable to explain her situation to those in his sphere of influence.
The Apostle Paul also connects the concept of humility to the incarnation story. He calls Christ followers to follow His example by being willing to give up their rights and feelings of privilege. He claims that this is what Jesus did by being born a human baby.
In his letter to the first century church in Philippi, Paul writes, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Although initially humbled by finding my framed art in the thrift store, I now was humbled to realize I might be blaming the wrong people. Reflecting on the situation, it occurred to me that I might have inadvertently included that prized item in one of several bags to be donated after cleaning out my garage. Perhaps I was the one responsible. Alexa, how do you spell “egg on my face?”
Well, I wasn’t going to leave my framed IAWL poem at the store. But it was no longer mine to simply take home. To reclaim it, I had to purchase it. I added that which had once been mine to my basket of Santa Closet décor and made my way to the cashier. I had redeemed what I had lost.
Driving home with my reclaimed possession, the thought occurred to me “Redemption is also at the center of the Christmas story, too!” The reason God came to us as one of us was the buy back a treasured possession He couldn’t imagine spending eternity without.
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is a former chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.