Stars fell on Alabama: A Christmas story for our time
December 23, 2015 (BreakPoint) -- Friends, we’re coming to the close of a dark year. We’ve witnessed the brutality and barbarism of ISIS overseas and watched violent clashes between police and protesters in the Heartland. All around we see death, anger, and despair. I’m sure you’ll agree there is much about the human condition we wish weren’t true.
Yet as we approach Christmas, we’re reminded once again that the darkness gathering around us does not have the final word. John the Apostle opens his Gospel with timeless words of hope regarding the Word of God: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
In Tarrant, Alabama, the beautiful light of hope shined into one woman’s family. Let me tell you their story.
As reported at AL.com, Helen Johnson stood in the store aisle in despair. She and her two daughters, a niece and two grandchildren, had not eaten for two days and now she was 50 cents short for the dozen eggs she was hoping to buy. Out of options and hope, Helen stuffed five of the eggs in her pocket and tried to walk out. Fortunately, as it turns out, they broke. “I'm not a good thief at all,” she said.
When confronted by store employees, she admitted her crime and waited for police. Yet, when Officer William Stacy got there, the story didn’t go as she expected. Instead of escorting her to the back of his squad car, Officer Stacy bought the dozen eggs for her and let her know the store was not pressing charges. When asked how she could repay him, Stacy told her not to shoplift again.
When I heard about this, I kept thinking about the touching scene in Les Miserables where Bishop Myriel presses the silver candlesticks into the criminal Jean Valjean’s hands. Your life has been spared for God, he told him. Kindness, rather than retribution, and mercy instead of justice, is what makes these stories great.
But Helen Johnson’s story did not end there. A man filmed the incident at the store and posted it online. The video went viral and offers of help began pouring in. Three days later, police officers were helping Mrs. Johnson sign up for a toy drive and the following day, officers returned with two truckloads of food. For a family with virtually nothing, a stocked pantry was unbelievable. “My heart is wide open right now,” she said.
The small acts of kindness by the store’s management and Officer Stacy sparked a wave of compassion and charity.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This, as much as any other, is the message that gives us hope at Christmas.
Every year, we take time to wonder at the kindness of a God who would descend from eternal bliss to live in squalor among us. His acts of kindness, and above all the gift of his own life for us, continue to work their way through history, inspiring countless acts of mercy throughout every land and age. The stories of Jean Valjean and Helen Johnson inspire us because they are our story, too. We are all condemned before the Lord, but rather than mete out justice, He offers forgiveness and new life.
Most of us may never know what it’s like to be 50 cents short of providing a meal for hungry children. But our Lord does: He came to serve the poor and the wretched, the “miserables” among us.
God’s ongoing blessing to us, if we choose to receive it, is to share His works of mercy in the world. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And blessed are the rest of us, who’ve been given opportunities to serve them.
Reprinted with permission from Break Point.