by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

October, 2021

There’s a radio program on the BBC, called The Conversation. The program is woman-centric, with a female host and two female guests in each installment. Both guests have something in common. They might be Olympians, songwriters, cancer survivors or something else. Once, during the holidays, the show featured two women who worked with reindeer. One installment dealt with women who knit. One of the women mentioned that it was a skill that had been passed down through the generations, and told a story about her grandmother.

The grandmother had a brother who was in the war, and she would knit him socks and send them to him. The brother had a buddy who was an orphan and had no one back home. So, the brother started sharing the socks with his friend. Time passed, and the brother was killed in action and his buddy was wounded. After the war ended, the friend made his way to find the woman who had made him socks. And he became the grandfather of the woman who was telling the story.

If it hadn’t been for socks—simple hand knitted socks—she would never have been born! Her family’s history would have been very different. Her grandmother changed history by knitting socks. We can imagine some of the possibilities. Imagine a universe: Where the grandmother didn’t have a brother. Where he and the other soldier never met. Where the brother survived, and his friend was killed. Where his friend never managed to find the grandmother. Closer to today, what if I had never heard the program in the first place?

I’ve been a science fiction fan for years so I’m familiar with the concept of alternate timelines. But if you’ve watched the show Ordinary Joe on TV, you know the idea has entered the mainstream, even if it’s been around for a while. At Christmas time, we hear about Scrooge’s dream of Christmas to come in A Christmas Carol, and some of us sit and tear up watching It’s a Wonderful Life, myself included. Both have elements that are familiar to those of us who know the science fiction genre.

Jesus changed history too but maybe not necessarily in the way some folks might think. When we talk about his life, we tend to talk about his birth, or death and resurrection. But in between, there were all manner of small moments, where he touched individual lives: He healed people who were sick or crippled, he gave sight to people who were blind, he raised some from the dead, and he even saved a wedding reception (John 2:1-11). Plus who knows how many other encounters that didn’t make it into Gospels? In each case, Jesus changed someone’s history and put him or her on a different path. He created a new “timeline.”

Science fiction fans like me enjoy amazing yarns and enjoy connecting with others who also enjoy those yarns. God is spinning an amazing yarn too, and you and I have the chance to have our own chapter, and to help determine what our chapter will be like. A grandmother changed history by knitting socks. Her brother changed history by befriending a fellow soldier. Jesus changed history by: Asking a woman for a drink, asking a tax collector to follow him, asking fishermen to leave their nets, and through any number of other encounters.

The author of Hebrews talks about people who “entertained angels unawares.” (Heb. 13:2b). There are various examples in the Old Testament of people encountering angels without knowing it: Lot in Genesis 19, Gideon in Judges 6, Samson’s parents in Judges 13. The people reading the epistle of Hebrews when it was originally written would have been familiar with those examples.

In any case, the thrust is same: Be hospitable, share what you have, be kind, “Do unto others . . .” etc. Today, Jesus calls us to have a part in changing history. We don’t need some science fictional gadget like a time machine. We can change history, each of us in myriad little ways, with simple, small acts of kindness. In ways big and small, we can “entertain angels” every day. And in the process, we can change someone’s history.

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Heb. 13:1-3 ESV.)

Copyright © 2021 by David Phelps