A few weeks ago when I was just starting to get in the holiday spirit, I thought of the Hummels. Not those breakable collectible figurines, but the poor sickly ones which brought about the downfall of Beth March.
Little Women was a favorite story of mine. I have read the printed pages a handful of times, listened to it as an audiobook too many times to count and ever since Winona Ryder took up the task of Jo, I have watched it each year about this time.
But the part that came to mind this year, even before I watched it was not the damaged dress and the singed bangs, not the romance that was not to be or the ice skating disaster or the manuscript in the fireplace. It was the Hummels.
They came in my mind as they came into the story, shrouded by back streets, a walk to reach, unexpected to find this second family of mother and children tucked in the attention of the Marches or myself. I found myself rolling the story through my mind and getting hung up right at that point where Jo opens her eyes on Christmas morning. She pauses feeling a little sorry that there are no presents, but then slipping her hand under her pillow she finds a Bible. Her sisters each rise and find their own copies and they spend some time reading quietly together. They head downstairs to discover Marmie is gone, she’d gone off with a beggar who’d come to the door according to Hannah, the servant.
When Marmie returns, here is what follows…
“Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, “I’m so glad you came before we began!”
They set out and care for this family with what little they had to offer, which was richness to them, but nothing to us. They kindled a fire in the hearth and warmth in the children’s heart. That poor mother called them angels and found hope kindling inside herself while Mrs. March promised continues help, a promise which she indeed kept.
At the end of the little story of that Christmas morn, we read…
“That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn’t get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.
“That’s loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it,” said Meg, as they set out their presents while their mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.”
They began their day reading and then rising to start their holiday, they put it into actions. At the end of the experience it is all tied up, back to the source of the inspiration for the action.
Oh, how I wanted that when I was young, to have the opportunity to find someone to care for at Christmastime. I wanted to be happier with an empty stomach headed for bread having handed off my plateful of cakes and sausage. But it has been years since I thought of the Hummels.
I had a brief wish I presented to God, that I would have an opportunity to know something of that. That I would see someone who like that mother needed caring for, and even someone who looked more like that mother than I could understand. I have had the privilege of hearing about other people’s Hummel experiences over the past week. I have seen good will to men performed by those around me. I am so proud of my friends. I have seen my prayer answered in my own season and know there is more answer on the way.
Tonight I was thinking on the Hummels again and there was that conversation with God again. And hears what resounded in my heart….”I am Emmanuel. God with us.”
Oh, he came to save the likes of me. He came to save me! Oh how glad I am of that! But He is God with us…us….corporate…together. He came to be with us, so really is it that big of a stretch of the imagination to suggest that we be with one another?
When we are looking at how to hold Christmas in our hearts, how to honor Emmanuel, perhaps what we should do is stop looking at how to make it the most possession gaining experience for our children and consider how we might make it a moment to love our neighbors better than ourselves, like Meg point out.
There are a few more days. There are a few more chances to make this Christmas be the one that stands out as the year you started the tradition of overwhelming generosity, of promised and delivered continued support.
Make this the year that you involve yourself in the business of the us that God came to be with.
I’ll close with a passage from another classic Christmas tale….spoken between a soul who never took time to rest his eyes, his heart or his mind on his fellow man and spent eternity mourning his mistake, and the man awaiting salvation.
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
`Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. `Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’
It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
`At this time of the rolling year,’ the spectre said `I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!’
God with us.