There I was, seated behind my book table at a school Christmas Market on a hot, Sydney summer day. The first mad scramble of students was over and the bell had rung. Around me, all sorts of interesting wares were on display—handmade Christmas cards and decorations, clothing, jewellery, festive food, plants and other miscellaneous items. The idea was that teachers would bring their students, class by class, to buy Christmas gifts for parents and other family members.
Soon the youngest students began arriving, many clutching tightly to little plastic bags containing their precious five dollars to spend. It was touching to see how teachers or older ‘buddy’ students tried to help them pick out something they could buy. Some found what they wanted by themselves, but most needed a lot of help and guidance. After all, it is hard to understand why that money in your little bag isn’t enough for just anything you like! My books were out of the question for them, but I tried my best to point them to some greeting cards I sell for a friend and to the one and two dollar items on the table next to mine.
When the older primary students turned up, however, it was a different matter. Some perused the tables slowly, trying to work out what they could buy with their limited funds, while others headed straight for what appealed to them. But that definitely did not include one young boy I noticed. I watched as he circled all the tables at a great rate—once, twice, then yet again, each time getting faster and faster. Then he suddenly stood still and looked totally lost and confused, as if it was all too much for him. His face was red—and he seemed close to tears.
Just then, one of the organisers came by and I mentioned this boy to her.
‘Which one is he?’ she asked straight away. ‘Some can find it all a bit overwhelming.’
I tried to point him out, but it was difficult, in the midst of so many children. Then I lost sight of him altogether.
Later, I wondered where he went. Did that organiser find him? Or did he give up and not spend anything? Did he leave happy? Or was he still upset?
As Christmas comes closer, I am reminded of that young boy whenever I am out shopping and take a moment to look at those around me, as they head through the centre with bulging bags and trolleys. Some seem relaxed and cheerful—but many appear decidedly harassed and overwhelmed, just like the boy at the Christmas Market. And soon I find myself remembering some words from Matthew’s Gospel about all those people who came to receive healing and teaching from Jesus in the places he visited:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36
This Christmas season, let’s watch out for those around us who seem harassed and helpless, for whatever reason. Let’s do what we can to walk alongside them and ease their burdens. By our kind words and helpful actions, let’s do our best to point them to Jesus, the true Shepherd, who alone can bring that deep peace we all long for in our hearts.