Gifts of The Wonderful

“The main trouble is there are too many people who don’t know where they’re going and they want to get there too fast!”

Sylvester (The Bishop’s Wife, 1947)

I’m waiting for The Wonderful. 

It’s coming as sure as there will be white Christmases, holiday decorations, familiar old songs, eggnog, stuffed stockings and presents under the tree.  Many of us have the luxury of fond memories, enticing smells of things cooking and a landscape that twinkles with a thousand lights to remind us.  Some have not been as fortunate. 

But we must remember that there is more to Christmas than the things we might receive and give.  I have come to call it The Wonderful.  It has to do with a marvelous transformation that seems to happen to people this time of the year.  Waiting for The Wonderful creates an atmosphere of childlike joy.  The possibility of a miracle reigns supreme. Something extraordinary is coming as our waiting takes on a joy of its’ own.

Christmas movies always put me ‘in the mood’ for the coming festivities.  Among my favorites are old black and whites from post-World War II. The men and women who had been engaged in devastating struggles of battle were back home and in the process of creating a bold new world.  They rolled up their sleeves, went to work, built houses, attended schools, and dreamed dreams of prosperity. 

By 1947, the simple times and ways of a Norman Rockwell agri-rural America were forever altered.  Along with the many changes came a more bountiful and materialistic focus on Christmas.  Presents were stacked under lighted trees instead of hung on branches.  More became better…and that notion was reflected in the movies. 

Two very different films were presented that year.  One was ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ which portrayed the Macys parade and an abundance of shopping.  The other was ‘The Bishop’s Wife’ which reminded a hurried nation to slow it down and to think about what our Christmas observance was all about.  This picture sums up the essence of The Wonderful.  It ended with a Bishop’s sermon written by an angel.  This is what he said;

“Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts.

You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled…all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up.

The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we are celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most… and then let each put in his share. Loving-kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”

Today, amid all the hustle and bustle, I will remember to fill a stocking in my heart with the most important gift of all. I will eagerly welcome The Wonderful.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Embracing Faith; The Mystical, Magical Flight of Christmas

“I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” ~ William Sloane Coffin

One of the magical messages of Christmas which we are asked to explore during Advent is that faith, like love, is here regardless of our willingness to recognize it. We don’t have to trust this…and we don’t even have to believe it.  In fact, we don’t have to do anything.  Faith is just there regardless of our acceptance. 

Words of the poet Rilke sweep over me and fill me with wonder when he says that in faith “there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.” 

The mystical wisdom of Jesus who compares faith to a mustard seed boggles my mind.  The tiniest little seed was planted in each of us.  And it has the capacity to move mountains.  How could it be that our faith which seems so fleeting and fragile is so ever-present and strong?  Perhaps because it never really leaves us.

Our always-possessed faith whispers the truth to us that darkness can never endure.  It proves over and over that good will overcome evil.  It brings love forward and casts hatred aside.  It dispels worry and asks us to simply do the-next-right-thing.  We are not meant to understand faith.  This isn’t necessary and perhaps not even possible. Just take the leap.  Your wings will appear and provide a magnificent flight. Everything will be okay.

Have Some Faith; A Message of the Christmas Season

I know you want to question everything, but sometimes it pays to just have a little faith.”

Lauren Kate

Our senses are bombarded with stories of conversions and restoration of faith during Advent and Christmastime. 

The tales have been woven into the fabric of our culture beginning on Thanksgiving with “The Miracle on 34th Street” and continue to infuse us for the next days and weeks until The Wonderful finally arrives on Christmas Day. Most all of us have seen these movies dozens of times. 

Yet, the hard-hearted becoming soft and compassionate, the miser becoming generous, and the troubled being saved, always seem to find a way of evoking sentimental feelings.  The reason is, of course, that this is the heart of our Christmas experience.  We are all hoping that we will be better people and that the world will become a kinder place.

The 2nd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Faith. One of the stories that always moves me is that of Saint Therese of France who had an incredible awakening in 1886 at age 14.  A simple thing had happened.  She had reached an age when the Christmas tradition of leaving her shoes by the fireplace in anticipation of presents was at an end. 

She completed the ritual with her parents after which she heard her father exclaim that he was thankful they would never have to do it again.  She began weeping, but the sadness was replaced by an incredible ‘white-light’ experience in which she was given a message of conversion by God.  The rest of her life became a testimony of Christmas which brought major changes to the Catholic Church. 

Christmas conversion and resilience of faith resonates deeply because, as Saint Therese shows us, the grace of God is always at work.  It is the lesson at the heart of The Wonderful.  In the ordinary, warm earthiness of a stable God is born and new life comes to the earth.

Advent and the Gift of Waiting

“At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”  ~ Mother Teresa

Advent begins next Sunday.  The Hallmark Channel is providing continuous Christmas movies, people are hanging up calendars to mark the days until Christmas, while decorations abound in stores, homes and on lighted streets. Holiday music is playing on the radio.  But Advent is about waiting for Christmas.  This is a different kind of waiting than the annoying kind we experience so frequently like hours sitting in doctors offices, and long lines for at airports.   Advent is about joyful anticipation.

The kind of waiting that we are called to experience during Advent is both focused and alert.  It is being present in the moment and deliberate in our actions.  We are asked to participate during this holy time by being more attentive to the people in our lives, actively listening to our families, taking extra measures to be kind and considerate, and by being unselfish as we touch the lives of strangers.  This is challenging and can only be done if we slow down and take our steps thoughtfully. For hidden in these days of Advent, amid planning, rushing and overdoing, is the gentle spirit of peace.