When Dale and I got married eight years ago, we knew very few of our neighbors. So we set out to change that, and to help bring our neighborhood together. That first holiday season, we held a Christmas open house in early December. It has become an annual event, and it's changed our world.
As we pondered Jesus' command in Acts 1:8, we've come to realize that our "Judea" is essentially our neighborhood, particularly those living nearby. We began reaching out by simply loving our neighbors.
Our open house event takes time, a little money and a good deal of effort. But we've learned to keep it simple – to provide a place for neighbors to meet and enjoy a few snacks and, of course, Christmas cookies. Most of all, we provide an environment of love and care. This get-together has become a top priority on our holiday to-do list, and a highlight of our Christmastime events.
Some of our neighbors have told us that it is a seasonal highlight for them, too. They experience God's love – the true meaning of Christmas. And because we've developed relationships with our neighbors throughout the year, we've made special friends, shared Christ freely, prayed with some and moved beyond a cursory "hello" to a heartfelt "how are you?"
We've enjoyed meals together, organized block parties and shared heartaches when times are tough – all because we took the time to have a holiday open house. We are learning to do life together. And isn't that what it means to serve in our Judea?
Here are some simple ideas for reaching out to your neighborhood/"Judea":
- Host a Christmas open house. A bag of pretzels, a can of peanuts and a plate of cookies with something to drink is all you need. Our open house has grown to 50-plus people, but you can keep it small. Caring enough to reach out to your neighbors is what really matters.
- Deliver Christmas cookie plates. (Remember the movie The Preacher's Wife and how this tradition drew the preacher and his wife closer together?)
- Adopt an elderly neighbor couple, and serve them monthly. You could have them over for a meal, take them out or do a home project with or for them. You could also invite them over for a Bible study, a family movie night or to learn some basic computer skills.
- Help shovel a neighbor's sidewalk or driveway, and enjoy a little time outdoors as a couple. My mother's neighbors do that, and it blesses her greatly.
- Retrieve the neighbors' trashcans for them after they're emptied. Attach a Christmas card – or let it be a "Secret Santa" surprise.