My father was a well-loved rural letter carrier, so when it came to Christmas, people on his route traditionally remembered him with all kinds of gifts. Throughout December, Dad would receive homemade fudge and fruitcake, bottles of aftershave, boxes of candy, a tree ornament and the like. Patrons who escaped the cold winters of northeastern Pennsylvania by traveling south to Florida would have a box of oranges or grapefruit shipped to him. Our whole family enjoyed the edible gifts of thanks, so many were the gifts. I don’t recall Dad ever buying aftershave because he received so many bottles as gifts each year.
On Christmas day or on the 26th, Dad would box up some of the gifts, pairing them with cookies my mother and I would have baked, and take them to a neighbor. This neighbor suffered with what were undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues and lived in poverty. The box of goodies Dad shared with him could have been the only Christmas gift he received.
Dad’s actions were among the first examples of Christian discipleship that I experienced as a young girl. He steadfastly cared for the people on his mail route, going above and beyond what was expected of him. He shared what he had with those in need, whether it was Christmas day or another time of year.
His Christmas actions remind me of Boxing Day and Saint Stephen. December 26th is the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. The deacon Stephen is remembered, in part, for distributing food and aid to the widows in his community. It’s those actions that inspire Good King Wenceslas of Christmas carol fame to care for the poor man gathering winter fuel. Likewise, Boxing Day, also observed on December 26th, has its origins in providing a box of gifts, often food, to those in need or those in service positions. It’s a bit ironic that where Boxing Day is still observed today, it’s most often a shopping day and not a day of providing gifts to those in need.
We need only look to the life of Jesus, whose coming to earth we celebrate at Christmas, to learn what is expected of us as disciples of Christ. In word and deed, Jesus teaches us to care for those in need. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to feed the hungry, provide drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the prisoner. It is this call that we recognize in the Purpose Statement of Women of the ELCA, acknowledging that we are “created in the image of God, called to discipleship in Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit ….”
How might you and the women of your congregational unit follow the examples of Jesus and Stephen this Christmastide? Who needs your care? Throughout our many communities, there is great need. Look and pray. You will find the places of service to which you are being called.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA.
This post first appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Gather magazine.