I have walked by Salvation Army bell-ringers all my life, but this week I finally got a chance to be on the other side. Our Community Group volunteered to man the Salvation Army collection kettle at the Alabaster Walmart on Tuesday, tag-teaming it for the afternoon and evening. It was a little cold and rainy, but it was also fun and inspiring, and admittedly, quite a lucrative day for the Salvation Army ministries. If you have never done it, I would certainly recommend it.
It doesn’t require much. I just stood there in my red Salvation Army apron and rang my bell and smiled at people and said “Merry Christmas” about a thousand times. There were a few conversations, some kind words in return, and I even let a few kids ring the bell for me, though I’m not sure if that was according to regulations. There were more than a few people who really didn’t want to make eye contact, and some obviously felt like they owed me an explanation for why they weren’t dropping cash into my kettle, as if I had a stake in the deal. I was content to just offer them a kind Christmas greeting, whether they contributed or not.
You can learn a lot watching the “people of Walmart,” and I’m not just talking about the folks on the website by that name. Mainly, I saw a general population of people who for the most part seemed very serious, and troubled, and perhaps already tired of the Christmas season. You could feel the burdens on people’s faces, and sometimes you could feel those burdened lifted, if only for a few seconds, when they heard the words “Merry Christmas.”
I discovered, at least in my time at the kettle, that people were far more generous than I would have expected. Many saw me and my kettle not as someone to be avoided, but as an opportunity to give. What a blessing that was, and what a blessing it will be I’m sure to the folks who are the recipients of the good ministry that the Salvation Army offers to those in need.
I also realized a few things about myself, too, from my perspective on the other side of the bell-ringing. I had to wonder how much I have appeared bothered and angry and exhausted when I have passed the bell-ringers in public places. And do I see such opportunities to give as a blessing, to be a giver like Jesus has called me to be, or a distraction to be avoided?
I did notice one thing that happened when I took a break between shifts and went into a couple of stores, and then made my way up to Chick-fil-A to visit one of our other group members who had to work that night. I was officially “off duty” from my bell-ringing responsibilities, but out of habit, I still found myself smiling at people and wishing them a Merry Christmas. And since I was no longer wearing my Salvation Army apron and ringing a bell, there was no suspicion that I was only doing it to get them to give me their money.
And I wondered, do I really have to be a bell-ringer to be an agent of joy in this season where so many are joy-less? If the “good news of great joy, which will be for all the people” that we celebrate this Advent season means anything, then it means everything. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” is not just a song, it’s the very point of Christmas. Jesus came, as He later said, so that His joy would be in us, and our joy would be made full. And as His followers, we are carriers of that joy into a world that is stressed-out, worn-out and often burned-out.
May you and I be filled with His joy, not just during this “season to be jolly,” but all the year round. And may we share that joy with a world that is hurting, searching and often running right past the very One who can bring that joy to their lives.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, morning and evening, as we celebrate the joy of Christmas at Shelby Crossings! And one more thing:Merry Christmas!