Monthly Archives: December 2009

JOY to My World


“Even stop lights/ Blink a bright red and green…”  –Silver Bells

In the realm of retail, Christmas means working harder, faster, longer hours.  There is nothing particularly joyful about this time of year.  We are overworked, underappreciated and often the target of Scrooges, Grinches, and people simply tired of lines.  It’s not the happiest season of the mall.

The other night I was leaving my job at midnight.  As I walked to my car I reveled in the stillness and quite of the empty parking lot.  I drove down the length of the mall, a little irritated at the late hour, ready to be home and in bed.  It was a striking sight, however, to see the empty street.  No cars lined up for spots or shoppers dashing across streets.  Bags didn’t cram carts and noise didn’t bombard my ears.  It was literally a breath of fresh, cool air.  Despite the oddly pretty solitude of an empty mall, I still resented working so late.  As I came around a bend in the road, all that frustration and cynicism and ugliness melted away. 

Through the buildings, I could see the Hilton hotel.  Illuminated in its windows was “JOY.”  Simple, succinct and glowing before me was a reminder of what Christmas really is.  This is a time of pure, true joy.  It’s surrounded by family and traditions that I cherish.  It’s a time when friendships rekindle and people want to be close in ways they don’t at other times.  It’s delicious food and presents and parties.  But, more than anything, it’s hope.  The birth of Christ meant hope for mankind, for a broken people.  It is hope of relationships being mended with our Creator and each other and a hope of life.  There is nothing more joyful than hope. 

I have found myself feeling especially happy lately.  It has been a lasting, deep happiness that I don’t really remember enjoying throughout my life.  I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that this is a time of year that I love for the aforementioned reasons and more.  It’s also the result of different friends and interactions and reflection.  But it’s a feeling that, more than anything I think I’ve felt before, feels like lasting joy.  It was such a small reminder of the big things in life.  Not the customers who complain and cut in line, or the inadequacy of my Christmas budget.  I have a family I love, friends that I love, a job and home, food and health.  There is no reason not to be joyful.  I know that sounds so trite and insincere, but seeing it blazing across a building, I realized that Christmas is above all a time of joy.

“Tis the season to be jolly and joyous/ With a burst of pleasure, we feel it all right/ It’s the season when the saints can employ us/ To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive…”  –The Muppets’ Christmas Carol


A Season of Giving


“Little baby/ I am a poor boy too/ I have no gift to bring/ That’s fit to give the King/ Shall I play for you?…”  –The Little Drummer Boy


I have had so much swirling around my mind this Christmas season.  I really wish I had been more disciplined and written more, but so life goes.

Each time I hear the Little Drummer Boy on the radio I am deeply touched by the song.  I know that it can be annoying, with all the “pum-puming,” and is a staple of Christmas pageants, so the song is nothing novel or especially noteworthy.  However, each time I hear it I get chills as the final verse starts.  The image of wanting to honor God, with nothing to give but your talent and passion, is inspiring. 

This year I have worked less and earned less than in years past.  I found as I started my shopping for my family that I couldn’t afford to buy much for them.  I’m not quite so worried about the amount of money that I can spend as I am that I feel limited.  I want to get them more.  I want to give them more.  I see things all around that remind me of them or that they would enjoy and I want to be able to give them.  I know that they are not expecting more or asking for more, but I like giving more.  I like letting them know that they are far away but on my mind.  I know that my words can do that, but presents seem to speak a little louder. 

The image of giving in the song is so powerful.  Honoring Christ is all that matters.  With no wealth to spare, his ability to drum is all the boy can bring to a child much like him.  I was deeply moved the other day and listened to this song.  It was such a humble request: Shall I play for him?  He asked permission to give the baby something.  I know this isn’t a true story, but an image of the scene was so strong in my mind.  New parents, tired and scared and excited and probably overwhelmed, are approached by strangers bearing gifts to their child.  Now, with baby showers, this is so common, but I wonder if it was at that time.  People come to worship your new little baby, including a dirty, poor little boy.  I imagine Mary indulging him, not really wanting the drum played, but letting him do it anyway. 

The emotion of the simple song always strikes me.  The boy plays his “best” for the baby.  It is such a childlike thing to say, so pure and innocent.  I realize that this is all that is asked of us.  We wonder what it is to bring glory to God.  We ask what we can do for others, how we can give and follow Christ.  We can play our drums.  We can take the little things that we have, the gifts we have been given, talents we possess and passions we hold, and give them.  We can give them the best that we can.  We can offer what we have and are now, not what we earn or will be or make happen. 

That’s the essence of Christmas.  God gave Himself.  He gave His love, His grace, His simple presence.  That’s what we celebrate.  It’s so simple.  We complicate the holiday so much, make it so busy and hard.  It’s as simple as asking, “Can I be me for someone?  Can I give what I’ve got here and now?” 

In the end, what the boy brings is enough.  It is powerful and celebratory and glorifies the baby.  God smiles at him.  I can’t imagine what that feeling would be.  God smiles at him for what he has brought, for being himself.  Being himself brings God glory and pleases Him.  Being himself is enough.

“Give what you have to somebody.  It may be better than you think.”  –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A Season of Potential


“Mary, did you know/ That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?/ Did you know/ That your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?/ Did you know/ That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?/ And when you kiss your little boy/ You’ve kissed the face of God…” –Mark Lowry

I love the Christmas season.  Advent does not even seem long enough to prepare for Christmas.  A mere four weeks simply does not give enough time to be ready for the holiday.  I have always loved Christmas, as far back as I can remember.  I’m sure that the showering of gifts didn’t hurt my childhood love of the holiday, but there is so much more to it than that. 

I love the preparation for Christmas.  As I think about my family’s traditions, so much comes to mind that I will have to save that for another night.  So full of nostalgia and comfort, our rituals are as much a part of the holiday as the date itself.  I love the closeness of people, the openness and generosity, that surrounds the holiday.  I love the food, the celebration and joy that surrounds the day.  And I especially love Christmas carols.

Working retail has almost broken me of my love for Christmas music.  For a holiday that is deeply religious in its origin, there are few songs that are strictly secular.  Those few are the ones that repeat all day long in the store.  They are jolly and festive, but rarely as moving as those that at least mention, if not celebrate, the origin of the holiday. 

Today, for the first time this season, I heard part of Mary Did You Know? on the radio.  This song, first introduced to me in Catholic elementary school, has always moved me.  The lyrics are beautiful and the song is almost haunting in its questioning.  Did she know that the baby she carried would be who He was?  I have studied the Gospels in detail and I know the stories of the Nativity relatively well.  Biblically, the angel came to her and another visited Joseph.  Sure, they got the jist of what was to come, of how much this child would change their lives.  So little scripture is devoted to them and the start of their family, that it’s easy to over-simplify the gravity of their situation.  I wonder how much they really understood. 

This song hits so deeply at the personal side of the story.  I think this is probably why I find it so moving.  My dad has told me that as a parent it is a completely different experience to listen to the lyrics.  Did that girl have any idea what she and her little boy were in for?  As she felt Him grow, as she gave birth, as she held and fed and bathed Him, did she have any idea?  Could she have foreseen the crucifixion when she washed His scraped knees?  Did she really understand the incarnation of God in her baby?  Can anyone wrap their mind around that in a finite way?  Or was she just a new mother, glad that the child was alive and had ten fingers and toes? 

I spent Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle and my two young cousins.  One of my cousins just turned five and the other one.  They are such tiny people, already forming personalities.  They have opinions and ideas and tell stories.  Despite these things, they are so unformed.  There is so much more about them that will develop and grow and define them.  It’s exciting to think that they are just starting to become actual people, to be more than cute little talking dolls.  I don’t see them as often as I would like, so when I do, they are so different!  They change and grow so quickly, and I’m excited to watch them grow up.  The older they get, the more excited I am to know them and witness their lives unfolding. 

I wonder if Mary and Joseph felt the same way.  Did they revere their son and see Him as God, or did they get excited when He started to become someone.  Did they know He was destined for things that the word “great” doesn’t even begin to describe, or was is just fun to hear Him tell stories and be excited over bugs and leaves and every little that caught His eye?  I know that Christianity, and particularly Catholicism, place Mary in high esteem and like to think of her as holy and special.  I do not think that she was unimportant or ordinary.  I do think she was human.  I think it makes the story so much better to think of her that way.  She was a young, first-time mother who knew her baby was different, knew that she was different, but couldn’t possibly know the big picture.  She was a mom.  It had to have been hard and tiring and exciting and scary and joyful and frustrating and everything in between.  It had to have been fun to watch His hesitant first steps and hear Him talk about His friends and watch Him be a big brother.  The biggest part of the miracle of Christmas, the part that is so important, was the humanity.  God became human.  It’s a much better story when His parents are too.

“If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men.”  –Maria Montessori