Christmas: the true meaning...

Today's thought:

Matthew 9:12-13, "On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Christmas is a special time of year—the lights, the presents, the food, the music—but somehow we have made Christmas about the celebration and have forgotten why we celebrate. Do you know the meaning of Christmas? If you can read the following story and know how it is the Christmas story then you understand.

In the mid 1800's, waves of foreigners introduced diseases that ravished the native peoples of Hawaii. Among the cruelest of these diseases was leprosy, now known as Hansen's disease, for which there was no known cure. As the severe deformities associated with leprosy spread, so did fear. It was decided that those afflicted should be forcibly outcast onto a remote peninsula on the small island of Molokai. This peninsula is exposed and battered by the Pacific ocean on three sides and cut off from the rest of the island by one of the world's tallest and sheerest ocean cliffs.

The souls outcast here became prisoners in their own land, harshly kicked from boats, washing onto shore without adequate supplies, infrastructure, medicine or tools. Families on surrounding islands powerless to help, mourned the cruel fate of their loved ones. Thus, the leper colony named Kalaupapa was formed.

On January 3rd of 1840 a boy was born, one of eight children, named Joseph de Vuester, in Belgium. His father, a farmer, sent him away to college to become an industrial businessman. Instead, while there, he met a group of missionary priests and decided to become a priest himself, taking on the name Father Damien.

Father Damien had a brother, who also entered the priesthood, named Auguste. Auguste was planning a missions trip to Hawaii. At the last minute Auguste got sick and died but before he died he asked his brother to go in his stead. Damien, who was praying about becoming a missionary, readily agreed, and he went to be a missionary to Hawaii. After several years on the island the Bishop asked for volunteers to go to the lepers of Molokai. Damien volunteered and took a boat to Kalaupapa.

When he arrived he was appalled at the sight that greeted him. The place was filled with people who could only be described as, "the walking dead." They were disfigured, had open seaping soars, lived in horrific conditions, with diseases of all kinds running rampant and a prevailing hopelessness. Damien went to the Church to conduct services and this is how that event is described:

"The building was full and it was boiling hot. Damien was confronted with all the physical unpleasantness of leprosy. There were too many people with supporating sores, so that there was a stench of rotting flesh. Moreover, one of the symptoms of leprosy is that the sufferer salivates excessively. The people were constantly coughing, clearing their throats and spiting on the ground. Damien had to turn away in order not to be sick. He went to the open window but the building was surrounded by ill people who had not been able to get into the Church." [Eynikel, Hilde: Molokai. The Story of Father Damien. (Trans.) Lesley Gilbert. Lond]

But it was when Damien went to what they called, "the dying shed," that Damien's life changed forever. When he opened the door on the floor lay a young man, a boy, with a swollen face lying twitching on a dirty sheet. Maggots crawled in his open soars. Though the Bishop had strickly forbid Damien before he left not to touch any person with his bare skin he knelt down with the young man, took off his glove and gently caressed a part of his uninfected skin. He told the dying boy of the glories of heaven and the love of God. Then the boy died in Damien's arms.

In that moment Damien decided to devote his life to the lepers of that colony. For over fifteen years he served them. He improved their way of life, dug their graves, got them water, helped build them huts, ministered the grace of God to them, was father to some 100 orphaned children. One day as he was preparing a bath he spilled scalding hot water on his foot. He saw the skin blister but felt no pain and then he knew. He too was now one of them and was going to suffer and die with leprosy. He began his next sermon with these words, "We lepors..." He gave his life for those people and died as one of them.

This is the Christmas story. Do you see it? If you see it then let the truth wash over you and hear the Angel say to you, "I bring you good news that will cause great joy..." (Luke 2:10).

Prayer: Father, the long awaited One has come and we rejoice in His arrival. He came to comfort, heal and save. We celebrate Him and the grace He brings to us, that He left the glories of heaven to call us sinners into His healing love. He is "good news of great joy!" Praise You for Your great gift. In Jesus name, amen.

[Adapted from: The Christmas Experience - Part 4: Experience God's Joy. Listen to the full message here:]