Bishop T.D. Jakes: The Christmas I was broke, nearly homeless and full of despair

A cross-county trip with the Capitol Christmas Tree

Truck driver Theron Schmalzried joins ‘The Daily Briefing’ to discuss the journey of a lifetime

On a cold, overcast December morning nearly 40 years ago, I hopped on a bus near my home in suburban Charleston, West Virginia and headed uptown to tackle a difficult task.
It was just a few days before Christmas and I was literally at the nadir of my fortunes. I’d been laid off in the midst of an economic downturn and my unemployment was running out.

My car had been repossessed a few weeks earlier. We had no money for food or rent. The prospect of homelessness loomed.

Clearly, buying toys or other gifts for my children that Christmas was out of the question.

I had made the trip uptown to plead with the power company to give me some more time to pay our past-due bill. I tried to elicit their sympathy by mentioning that I had a young wife and two infants at home. They turned me down and laughed me out of the building.  I left with tears in my eyes.
We would spend the next several weeks keeping ourselves warm with kerosene heaters. I spent the next year digging ditches to put food on the table, bartering lawn mowing services for my children’s diapers and battling the same kind of angst, fear and uncertainty currently faced by tens of millions of people.

Life doesn’t have to be perfect in order for us to have a silent night and a holy night.

Still, that year we miraculously experienced the magic of the holiday season.

A couple of nights before Christmas, my mother-in-law drove through the snow with a trunk full of toys. Later, my wife’s uncle stopped by with bags of groceries.
I revisit those dark days often because out of that despair and gloom came lifelong lessons about persistence, faith, friendship, family and the true spirit of Christmas.

In the midst of this most festive of holidays – replete with twinkling lights, trees festooned with glittering ornaments, tables laden with massive amounts of food, and countless individual holiday traditions — it is easy to forget the turbulent circumstances in which our Savior entered this world.

We sometimes forget that Jesus was marked for death even before he came out of his mother’s womb. He was born in a cold dark barn, where his family was quarantined because the inn was full.

The barn reeked of livestock dung and the hide of colts and donkeys and lacked any of the basic amenities to which we have become accustomed.

Immediately after his birth, his parents were forced to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of a megalomaniac ruler who had decreed the execution of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two.
Just like in the era of the early years of the life of Jesus, we are living in a chaotic world, battered by the worst pandemic in a century and the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Here in the United States, we average at least 100,000 new infections each week. More than 14 million people have been infected and nearly 300,000 have died. Some experts suggest that the worst is yet to come.
But I believe this Christmas season presents an opportunity for all of us to learn that good things can come out of bad times, that life doesn’t have to be perfect in order for us to have a silent night and a holy night.

It’s true that most of our friends and family may not be joining us for dinner this year, that we will be using smaller pots and pans and that we may not get out to the mall to shop. But if we can still find that quiet place despite the dark, damp barn around us and the threats and chaos, we can experience what really counts:  care and concern, love of family, being there for one another, a desire to protect each other and do what is necessary to survive the chaos.

Like the twinkling Christmas lights, there are always glimmers of hope in the darkest night. For Joseph, the father of Jesus, it was the shelter of the barn. For us, it was my mother-in-law’s car slowly cruising through the snow.
This may well be the time for a re-imagining or a renewed understanding of what matters most: The real meaning of Christmas is proven in the warm blanket of the love of God, the family who protects what they’ve been given, and the awareness that angels watch over barns!

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