The 10-foot, 60-pound wooden cross I have been lugging around the streets of Bakersfield since 2006 has also been carried throughout each of our nation’s 48 contiguous states and state capitals as well. Since I wasn’t able to bring the large cross on air flights to Hawaii and Alaska, I made 10-foot wooden crosses in each of the two state capitals and left them there for others to carry after cross-walking our nation’s 49th and 50th state. People’s reactions have always been the same in all 50 states, no matter the time of year.

And what’s so amazing is that this cross commands great attention at Christmastime as well. For some reason, the large cross demands observation, demands attraction, demands notice and demands response — even throughout the most wonderful time of the year.

Maybe it’s because the Babe who was born in that wooden manger more than 2,000 years ago was truly whom the Bible and God’s prophets of old say He was — “the Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10). Perhaps that’s the reason why the 10-foot cross acts like a huge spiritual magnet as I lug this cruciform throughout the streets of America, drawing and attracting men, women and children to the One who’s arms are open wide to anyone and to everyone — even at Christmastime.

This heavy old rugged cross has also been the object of attention in 180 California cities, including Hollywood, Compton, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and, of course, Bakersfield. Walking the residential as well as downtown streets of America, of California and of Bakersfield in December has resulted in some amazing stories — some hilariously funny, some extremely serious.

The old rugged Christmas cross of Jesus represents dynamic and living hope to the least, the last and the lost. To the most, the first and the found. To the haves and the have-nots. To the rich and the poor. To the innocent and the guilty. To the runaway, throwaway and stayaway. The cross of Christmas’ Messiah offers new beginnings and newfound peace to both the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor, the innocent and the guilty, the prodigal son and the obedient son, the silver spoon and the dirty spoon, and the blue collar, the white collar and the pink collar.

And because death, sorrow, tragedy, pain and trauma don’t take vacations or holidays, neither does the God who died on the cross for our sins, our stumblings, our mistakes, our missteps and our shame. That’s also why I walk the old rugged cross throughout the winter months and especially during the Christmas season.

No matter who we are, each of us is just a phone call away, a knock-on-the-door away, a text message away, or a doctor’s report away from falling on our knees in stunned disbelief of what we are hearing or reading. Such mental pain, such excruciating agony, such shocking news can quickly and completely erode all the peace, faith, hope and trust in a loving God that we have built up in our hearts and minds when everything in our lives was good, was peaceful, was bright, was hopeful and was promising.

But then death like a raging storm arrives upon the peaceful shores of our lives. Cancer appears. Divorce or separation take place. Jobs are lost. Tragedy comes. Crisis emerges. Sorrow materializes. As fast and as easy as a rock shatters a glass window, so can sorrow, tragedy, crisis, trauma, disaster, mishap and devastation completely smash and obliterate our joy and peace to smithereens — especially during the Christmas and holiday season.

Yet, as millions of men, women and children have personally experienced, seasonal sadness, holiday hurt and Christmas crisis meet their match when the old rugged cross draws near. As I walk the 10-foot cross up and down America’s, California’s and Bakersfield’s holiday-decked residential and downtown streets, people in turmoil as well as people in peace come running. They run from their homes, their vehicles, their businesses, their moments of deep sorrow, their season of sadness, their holiday hurt and their Christmas crisis.

They weep, they cry, they take off their hats as a sign of respect for the cross. They bow down before the cross. They reach for and tenderly touch the cross as their eyes fill with hot and heavy tears and as uncontrollable sobs and soft whimpers escape from the deepest and darkest recesses of their souls and the lowest and insurmountable valleys of their lives. And they stand in awe of God’s most wondrous sight ever given to man: an empty cross representing a living Savior.

Such is the splendor and awe of the cross of Jesus. And such is the miraculous and marvelous wonderment of the old rugged Christmas cross when hearts are touched and lives resurrected with His peace, hope and love.

At times like these, the seven most common words uttered from troubled souls and trembling lips are always: “I needed to see the cross today!”

And the soul-soothing, peace-giving message of the Christmas cross is the very same declaration/invitation each and every day of the year to all who are weary and have lost their way and their tranquility, as proclaimed in that old yet still beckoning hymn: “Though millions have come / there’s still room for one / there’s room at the cross for you.” Even and especially at Christmastime.

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