Published in the Rains County Leader on December 22, 2015:
The last three weeks, I’ve written about the season of Advent – more specifically about the meaning of the candles in the Advent wreath. The first three candles represent hope, peace, and joy. On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Candle of Love is lit.
The word “love” is used a lot during the Christmas season. Sometimes it’s used in a very self-serving way as various merchants try to convince buyers that the jewelry, cars, and other gifts they offer will demonstrate love much more completely than anything offered by other merchants. Other times we use the word love to describe the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes as we share treasured traditions and make wonderful new memories. There are also times when we experience the deep heart connection of genuine caring. Rarely, though, do we come anywhere close to the love represented by the fourth Advent candle.
However, my granddaughter Zoe came close a year or so ago. One afternoon, she came home with a collection envelope and the enthusiasm only a five-year-old can manage after a busy day at Kindergarten.
“Dad,” she said, hitting up the softest touch first. “Can I have some money? I’m collecting for school.”
“I don’t know, Zoe,” he replied, giving her his full attention. “What are you collecting for?”
“I’m not sure, but I know it’s for sick kids. Please, Dad. They really need it!”
He checked the envelope and saw it was a legitimate charity supporting leukemia research. Besides, she has had him wrapped around her little finger since before she was born, so gave her his change and threw in a couple of dollars for good measure.
“Thank you, Daddy,” she beamed, giving him a big hug before she skipped off on her errand of mercy. Before the day was over, she had approached her mother, her brother, and probably a few neighbors. When Christian went in to tell her goodnight, she was still excited. “Dad, I wonder how much money I collected.”
“I don’t know, Zoe-Zoe, but I’ll bet it’s a lot. I’ll count it with you before you go to school tomorrow.”
The next morning, she bounced in to the kitchen with her bulging, jingling bag. “Dad, can we count the money now?”
Christian’s never been much of a morning person, but he looked into those big eyes and smiled. “Okay, but then you have to eat your breakfast.”
He emptied the money onto the table, but by the time he finished counting, his smile had turned to a look of astonishment. “Zoe, where did you get all this money?”
“Well,” she said, “I got some from you and Mom and brother and some other people.”
“But there’s over $50 here,” he said, wondering if he was raising a little con artist.
“Oh, I also put some in from my piggy bank.”
“All of it.”
“Zoe, it took you a long time to save up that money.”
“But, Dad, the kids really need it – and I can get more. Can I have pancakes for breakfast?”
Later, when he told me the story, he was still shaking his head in wonder. “Mom, I was feeling pretty self-righteous because I emptied my pockets, but she gave two or three months of her allowance and chore money without a second thought.”
Zoe’s story isn’t a Christmas story, or at least it didn’t happen in December, but hers is the kind of love the Apostle John wrote about when he said “For God so loved the world” and the love Jesus commanded when he said “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” During this last week of Advent, may you love and be loved with the abandon of a five year old girl who emptied her piggy bank. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior during this season of love, I think about what he gave up, and I wonder if He said, “Dad, they really need me.”