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It was a chilly December evening in downtown Chicago, and about a dozen people from a suburban Christian college were Christmas caroling. A few people stopped to listen. A black man edged closer as they sang. His head nodded in rhythm with the melody. He was probably in his 20s, but his tired and ragged appearance made him look much older."Say, brother," he said, approaching one of the carolers as the song ended, "Would you please help my family? We ain’t got no money, and my baby needs formula." "Please, man. I need to get us some food. Just a few dollars!" The carolers glanced at each other knowing the safest response was to politely refuse.Yet they were Christians. Weren’t we supposed to help needy people?"We can’t give you money," one man finally said, "but we can buy you what you need." "My name is Jerome," he told them as they walked toward a nearby convenience store. He lived in a city housing project with his wife and three kids. As they entered the store, they noticed that his eyes seemed to brighten. Maybe they had brought a little hope into his life.Soon the group had paid for baby formula, eggs, and milk, which seemed a fitting conclusion to the evening of caroling.As they handed Jerome the groceries and bus fare his eyes had darkened into an angry stare. "You think you better than me, don’t you?" he said. "You all think you somethin’ cause you come out from the suburbs, buyin’ food for the po’ folks, but you ain’t no better than me."There was nothing anyone could say that would change his mind. Just silence!Jerome grabbed his bag of groceries and walked away. Then he suddenly turned and said sharply, "Merry Christmas."It was not a warm wish, but a bitter statement filled with broken pride.The holiday spirit had suddenly evaporated, and there was no way to bring it back.Why had the carolers expected gratitude and appreciation for their gift to Jerome?Strangely enough, Jerome gave them something far better than gratitude. He made them look hard at selfish motives and gave them a sobering lesson on the real reason for giving.They were expecting a pat on the back. Instead, Jerome gave them a glimpse into the true meaning of Christmas.

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