Compassion: Spiritual Disciplines

You can’t escape them—the rhythmic ring of their bells reaches your ears from the time you open your car in the parking lot. Then you must decide as you near the large doors if you will ignore them by busying yourself with your phone or smile and make eye contact. I don’t even know if I have any change. Will they expect me to put something in their large red money cauldron if I say hello? I doubt I’m alone in my general discomfort at running the Salvation Army gauntlet in and out of every store during this time of the year.

They aren’t the only ones asking for charitable donations. The majority of non-profits and ministries I know of ask for their supporters to consider a year-end donation, which means we are facing an onslaught of requests for our financial giving as we draw closer to December 31.

There is nothing wrong with this. Many people are moved to generosity by the joy of the season, and Ebenezer Scrooge has taught us that part of the Christmas spirit is thinking of others less fortunate. We fill boxes for Operation Christmas Child for children in far reaches of the world. We volunteer at a local soup kitchen or purchase gifts for Angel Tree. World Vision offers a wide catalogue of gifts, which can be gifted in someone’s name to a family or individual in need.

We seem to be programmed (even by our culture) to remember the needy and the poor during the Christmas season. Though their bell-ringing may result in a slight social panic for some of us, the Salvation Army at the very least calls us back to this. This level of awareness, compassion, and generosity is fitting, for at Christmas we remember the unmatchable gift of Jesus Christ, God in flesh, come to earth on our behalf. 

Christians have the charge of following after Christ—of looking like Him. Jesus was deeply compassionate, concerned about the plight of the poor, the sick, the social outcast, the vilest sinner, and the most self-righteous. He did not see statistics or pawns to prove a political point. He saw people—saw their need and their pain. He reached out and touched them, even when it would cause religious outrage and social repulsion.

The Church should be a place of compassion, and her people ones who truly see the people of the hurting world around them. During this Christmas season, we can partner with those who are engaging in work of compassion. During the rest of the year, we can continue to actively demonstrate compassion when others have forgotten its importance as the Christmas warmth wears off.

Consider how you can show the compassion of Christ this Christmas season—not only through your money, but with your time, and by taking the time to see people in their pain and need. How can you meet a need for someone who regularly serves you (teacher, mailman, janitor, pastor, etc.)? How can you show compassion to the outsiders and disenfranchised in your community?

I will leave you with a quote from Martin Luther, as quoted by Roland H. Bainton in his biography, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Abington, 1950).

The inn was full. No one would release a room to this pregnant woman. She had to go to a cow stall and there bring forth the Maker of all creatures because nobody would give way. Shame on you, wretched Bethlehem! The inn ought to have been burned with brimstone, for even though Mary had been a beggar maid or unwed, anybody at such a time should have been glad to give her a hand. There are many of you in this congregation who think to yourselves: “If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the baby! I would have washed his linen! How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!” Yes you would! You say that because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Childish and silly thoughts are these! Why don’t you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself.