Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.
So after I wrote through my feelings and thoughts about this Christmas season, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on where I had ended up: namely, the desire to recapture Christmas, even if only in my own heart and mind, as a time to focus on the aspect of Immanuel. God with us. And from there, to filter this Christmas season (and others to come) through what that means. The Living God, with us? A God that cares about people, and has a heart for the ones that slip between the cracks? My head was full of the implications, but my resources allowed very little of my thoughts to actually become practical actions. It was kind of disheartening, but at the same time uplifting. My perspective had been widened; my heart no longer focused on the sad and (in my view) unjust aspects of Christmas in my communities, but instead on the hope that the gospel has for loving and healing change for all of us and our messed up (however well-intentioned) systems.
So on Christmas Eve, as I went to work in the only store in our small town, I donned a Santa hat that I’m pretty sure belongs to my brother-in-law and met the world with smiles. I engaged and interacted with all that I could today: the people I knew and loved, the ones that I didn’t and didn’t care to know or love, and everyone in between. Now, nothing spectacular happened. There wasn’t any Hallmark-esque Christmas miracle. But I was able to see how drastically I had been ignoring the gospel I claim to cling to. For the past few months I’ve been working at this store and seeing the same people come in and out. I didn’t serve any of them poorly, but I certainly didn’t give them all the service that I give to my mother when she walks through the door.
But I did today.
And maybe that really didn’t impact anyone, honestly. Just one day? C’mon. But what if I capture this idea of Immanuel that Christmas brings, and allow it to direct all my days at work? This town has a population of roughly 450 people, according to the last census. We’re small. Everyone knows everything about everyone. They know my family, even if they don’t know me. They know we’re Christians. They know me. And they also know that I smile and wish them a good day, but don’t really go any deeper than that. Or at least I haven’t before. I’ve always been too busy with church programs and small groups twenty miles away. Any lasting, Kingdom impact in my actual community? Well if there is, isn’t not coming through me, is it?
But perhaps it can.
So today while I was pondering on all of this, a woman came into the store. She owns the bar two doors down the street, which of course I have never been in. A Thomas? At a bar? In this town? Yeah, not likely. 450 people would have a good laugh about that one. (Well, 441, minus the nine people currently calling my parent’s house home.) Anyway, this woman (who seemed perfectly nice) was picking up some last minute things she needed for her Christmas Eve party. At her bar. Right here in our small community. She talked about it, I asked questions, and she answered them. As she was walking out the door, I asked her what time it started. She told me, and looked at me with a raised eyebrow. (There’s no mistaking who I am in this town; I’m like a carbon copy of my dad.)
So tonight, after work, I showered and dressed and walked to the local bar, went inside, sat down, and ordered a drink. It was actually extremely comical, kind of like a movie. There was a quiet awkward moment in which several heads turned, and then a stammered, “Uh, do you have ID?”
Um, I was flattered, but truth be told? I haven’t needed ID for a few years and there’s no mistaking it.
I showed it to the bartender, got my drink, and sat there looking around the bar as I drank it. The conversation seemed a little more reserved than it had when I walked in, and every face in the room was familiar. I saw these people nearly every day at work. But here I was, descended from on high (my family lives on the top of a hill just outside the village) to mix with the commoners. Not really an apt analogy, to be sure, but to many people in our community that’s exactly what they think of my family. I’ve heard it often enough in the store. We’re very nice people, the story goes, but we’re that “religious” family. We don’t mix in, not really, with the others in town.
So I stayed for about half an hour, drinking and making small talk with the people around me. Then, deciding that a little dose can go a long way, I left. Better let them all release the breath they’ve all been holding since I sat down. That was the exact thought in my head. I wished everyone a Merry Christmas, slipped my tip under my coaster, and walked out the door.
Again, there wasn’t any moving moment where the world shifted, snow flittered down, and all looking on declared that we’d captured the “true meaning of Christmas.” But tonight, I went into my community – for real – as an agent of the Kingdom of Heaven. I went Immanuel style, God with us, into the places that they go. I probably just confused them, and that’s fine. I don’t need to fit an entire process into one single night. And when I use the word process, I’m not looking at this town or these people like they’re projects for conversion. I’m looking at a life process, communually, that will hopefully change some of them just as it changes me, bringing us all closer to the heart of the Heavenly Father. Tonight, I think I broke the ice. I showed them that I’m a different kind of Christian. And even if they didn’t get that message tonight, I plan on giving them ample opportunities to get it. Perhaps not at the bar (my poor parents’ hearts!) but definitely through my daily life in this town.
So this Christmas counted for something then, even if only in my own heart. This Christmas marked the launch of Kingdom Agent Ethan Thomas. Mission: South Colton, New York. Purpose: to bring the gospel into a community of people that desperately need it. To live love well with actual human beings. The ones that fall between the cracks.