“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943 as a tribute to soldiers overseas during World War II, and has become a holiday classic. Nursing home residents are a bit like soldiers, but most of them will never be home for Christmas. The statistics say that 60% of nursing home residents in the U.S. do not receive a single visit from a family member in an entire year. There is no more important time to plan a special program than at the holidays. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day each are opportunities to show God’s love through visiting people who are alone. Small gifts are wonderful, but the greatest gift we have to offer is our presence.
For those unfamiliar with nursing home ministry early October may seem a bit early to begin planing a Christmas program. But after having worked for 20 years of Christmas I have learned that the earlier we start the better. Usually we have a group of from 6-10 volunteers (mostly young people) who start out eager to help. What happens along the way is a combination of teen issues (boyfriend /girlfriend) or school and family changes that impact our ability to prepare. All in all I sometimes feel like we are just duct taping a few kings crowns together and turning up microphones for shy voices that the residents can barely hear. Thank God that Jesus takes our 5 loaves and 2 fish of talent and desire and multiplies it in a way that touches hearts and lives each year. Over the next week I will be posting a few practical ideas and guidelines that may assist you in your own community to get ready for Christmas once again.
In this computer age no one uses pencil and paper but I encourage you to at least try both. Physically writing things down helps to slow our thoughts down enough to consider in detail the people and the plan that will help make your program effective.
Make a List
Meet with the recreation/activities director of your chosen local nursing home and find an open date on their calendar that works for you. Typically these calendars fill up more than a month in advance. We are written in for December 6 because the 13th was already taken!
Ask for volunteers from your circle at church and friends and find out how many people you can expect to help. Will this work for the program you have in mind?
Can the children (or youth) at your church be invited to participate?
Think about small gifts for the residents. Have you asked the staff what gifts to give?
Pray for God’s creative ideas. Pray together with your team. Get started and trust that the Christmas message is full of hope for people who have been forgotten. Christmas began in the heart of God!
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. Luke 1:37
Our young people had a very special opportunity this year to give as Christmas gifts copies of the devotional book A Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada. First the young people sang, presented the story of Bethlehem and then spent time one on one with about 35-40 residents, staff and family. Of course someone baked cookies as well and there were tears, laughter and joy as we shared together the miracle of Christmas.
This past Christmas our youth got together to not just prepare a Christmas program for the nursing home but to also raise funds to purchase devotionals from Joni and Friends ministry for gifts. One of the highlights of our practice was spending an hour wrapping each book. Some came out better than others! Did you ever stop to wonder where we came up with the idea of gift wrapping? Isn’t the gift itself what people really want? I think it all comes down to presentation and that is something even God chose to do when he sent Jesus to that manger in Bethlehem!
but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:7-8
In a strange sort of way Jesus was God, gift wrapped! Before you think we are straying into some strange teaching pause to think of some reasons we have for gift wrapping. First we wrap up a gift to keep it a surprise. In that same way Jesus came to that humble stable of Bethlehem as a baby. From the outside no one could see who He was. It took angels telling the shepherds to get an audience for His birth! God came gift wrapped in humanity. The Father chose this way so that only those whose hearts were humble could know what the gift was.
Another reason for wrapping is to say. “Here I prepared this just for you!” In that same way Jesus was sent, not only for the whole world, but also for each one of us individually. Just as he sat by the well for one woman and went to the pool of Bethesda for one man, so also He gives Himself to each of us one by one.
Some of us open presents on Christmas Eve and others Christmas morning but for all of us the gifts are wrapped and sitting under the tree because it makes us wait till the right time to open them.
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law Galatians 4:4
You might remember that God also came down on Mount Sinai during the Exodus story. But it was not the right time for the gift to be opened. People were terrified. No one could approach the mountain and Moses was only allowed to glimpse God after He had passed by and was going away. But at just the right time Jesus came, the gift was presented and we by faith could begin to unwrap the fullness of the love God in Jesus Christ.
This did take a while to process the video but I was so touched by our youth and by the help of all the parents this past Christmas. They sang, presented the nativity and helped to raise the offering that enabled us to give a copy of the Book by Joni Eareckson Tada “Spectacle of Glory to each resident and to some of the staff. What a blessing to be included with such a great group of people. It doesn’t take a group of professionals to share the message of Jesus. Be blessed!