I examined the Christmas Eve invite card with unimpressed skepticism. “Honestly,” I thought to myself, “what could one little invite card really do? What’s even the point? They probably just a want a larger crowd this year than last. I love Jesus, but I’m not gonna play that game of promotion.”
I’m not quite sure what prompted me to place the card in my wallet, but I squeezed the invitation in between my Visa and Super Sub sandwich punch reward card, convinced it would be soon forgotten.
Christmas week is one of my favorite work weeks of the year. The boss’ expectations are pretty low so the crew takes full advantage. We linger in the hallways, small talk in the break room, and let the approved lunch hour extend an extra 30 minutes or so.
Thursday afternoon, my friend Scott and I capitalized on the long lunch. We snuck out early and went to grab some food at Super Subs. I was only one punch away from a free steak sub and soda, so I reached into my wallet to enjoy the fruits of my labor, and my fingers found the forgotten invite instead. My wallet had worn down the corners around the card. “Just another reason to throw it away,” I thought. But yet again, as I was rewarded my free sub, I returned the invitation to its cocoon of leather.
This lunch was different than our typical mid-afternoon siesta. We breezed through the Patriots talking points and thankfully got through the nauseating “What’s your family doing for Christmas” discussion within minutes. There was this odd moment of silence where we were both chewing and staring off in different directions. It was the sweet silence of two friends who don’t feel obligated to small talk. I picked up the remaining end of my sub and engulfed it in one bite. I think Scott noticed that I had waaayyy over estimated the size of my mouth.
Seeing that I wouldn’t be able to speak until I chomped through 2 inches of savory steak, cheese, and bun, he took advantage of my debilitation and began venting about his life. His marriage, his relationship with his father, his teenage daughter’s struggles, his dissatisfaction with work—it sounded like a tidal wave was continually crashing over him, relentlessly tossing him against the rocks.
These types of conversations terrify me. I never know what to say. I feel like whoever is drowning expects me to throw them a life raft and pull them back to safety. The problem is that I’m never totally sure if I’m on the boat myself! There I was, listening to Scott’s troubles, feeling more inadequate to help than ever. He continued spewing for a few more minutes and when it was finally over, he just looked at me - waiting for something, anything.
I’m not a counselor or life coach, so I defaulted to the only thing I was ever told to do in these situations. I asked him what he thought about Jesus. Like a fighter who just took an uppercut off the chin, he looked a little disorientated. “I don’t know,” he said. “Never really thought too much about him. He’s always seemed kind of like a crutch to me.”
I’m pretty sure Scott thought he offended me because he quickly reciprocated with phony intrigue. “Why? What do you think?” he asked.
“I don’t know much, man,” I said. “But what I do know is Jesus is for you. I know that he cares about what’s going on in your life, and I know that we were all created for a relationship with him.”
We drifted into a minute of awkward quiet that felt like an hour.
“All I can say,” I continued, “is that the more I look to Jesus for purpose, the more strength I have to get through the hard stuff.”
Despite my simplistic retort, I could tell he was longing for more. Then it hit me—the invitation card! I knew Scott and his family were around on Christmas Eve, so I reached into my wallet and pulled out the little card that I had carried all week for no apparent reason.
“Listen, I know your family is around for the holiday. No pressure, but I think you’d really enjoy this service. Don’t worry, it’s not like a cult or anything, it’s just a bunch of people who get together to celebrate Jesus’ birth. You and the kids would like it.”
Scott took the invitation, thanked me for it, and we headed back to the office.
I went home that afternoon feeling like a failure. I hadn’t solved any of his problems. I didn’t give him any pieces of proverbial wisdom. All I did was give him an invitation to a church service. “What a missed opportunity,” I thought.
Christmas Eve came a few days later and my family and I arrived at church a little early to get a few pictures and connect with some of our family friends. As I was sipping my last bit of coffee, wouldn’t you know it, Scott and his family came walking through the doors! A combination of anxiety and energy surged through my veins. I took a step towards him, but he and his family made a beeline for the sanctuary before I could get their attention.
I watched Scott out of the corner of my eye the whole service. He politely stood for the singing and attentively listened to the message. I’m not one of those super “spiritually in-tune” people, but it seemed like something was stirring in him.
After the service dismissed, I hustled out of the sanctuary to talk with them in the lobby. The mass of people grabbing baked goods, exchanging gifts, and giving hugs made it impossible to find him. I looked and looked, but amidst all the commotion, I had to abandon my search.
Then I saw something that, excuse the cliché, I can only describe as a Christmas miracle. Scott, his wife, and the pastor were praying together. Through tears and smiles, they surrendered their lives to Jesus.
I observed from across the room, not wanting to interrupt the moment. When they had finished praying, Scott introduced their kids to the pastor, gave him one more hug, and then left. As soon as they exited the front doors, the pastor walked straight for me.
“I met your friend, Scott,” he said smiling. “He told me you invited him to come tonight.”
“Yeah.” I searched for more words, but I was at a loss. “Just gave him the invite card.”
“Well thanks for being faithful. I know something like an invitation card seems small, but you never know when it might change someone’s eternity.”
I shook my head in amazement and shock. He was right. I was reminded that night that the good news of Jesus’ birth is only news when it’s shared. How it’s shared is irrelevant. Text message, email, Facebook, or invitation card. The medium doesn’t matter. What matters is that we tell people that the Savior was born!
Scott’s life changed after that night. Not because his complicated life circumstances resolved themselves overnight - they didn’t. His life changed because he found hope. He and his family became regular attendees and volunteers in the church. Scott and I actually started a small prayer group in our office where we gather once a week to encourage and pray for one another. My relationship with Scott morphed from friendship to brotherhood.
I walked past Scott’s office the other day. As I glanced in, something caught the corner of my eye. On the wall behind his chair is a collage of kids’ paintings and family photographs. In the corner, with a thumbtack through the top of it, is the Christmas Eve invitation card. Below it hangs a yellow post-it note that simply reads: “the night Jesus saved me.”
It’s faded and beat up now, but it no longer looks so unimpressive.
January 19, 2019