With the holiday shopping, gift-wrapping, baking and entertaining finally behind me, I took the time here and there to sit before our Christmas Tree. Though each of these interludes lasted no more than ten minutes, I enjoyed them just the same. As I child, I spent what seemed to be hours staring into the manger that rested beneath our tree. This scene drew me into serious conversation with the Lord God and Family. I imagined the Holy Family’s troubles that first Christmas Night. After shivering in the cold which I knew surrounded them, I assured Joseph, Mary and Jesus that I would have given them a place to stay if I had lived in Bethlehem back then.
My affection for my childhood crèche and the tiny statues that filled it paled in comparison to my mom’s love for it. This tiny stable rested beneath my parents’ first Christmas Tree. Since my dad’s passing after only seventeen years of marriage, my mom certainly cherished this remnant of their life together more than ever. This is the reason I vividly recall the day we lost it.
My mom had boxed up our old clothes for Catholic Salvage. They made truck runs much like the Amvets and Cancer Federation do today. When the truck arrived for our donation, my aunt directed the crew because my mom was at work. Aunt Lucille guided the driver and his helper to the stack of boxes my mom had left in the basement. Unfortunately, my aunt did not realize that the men also took some additional boxes which rested nearby.
It was the week before Christmas when my mom returned to the basement to retrieve our Christmas decorations. Much to our collective dismay, she discovered that every bit of our holiday décor, including her beloved crèche, had been given away. Heartbroken as she was, my mom sprang into action. She headed out to purchase as many replacement decorations as she could afford. My older sister Rita, who likely appreciated our mom’s devastation far more than her younger siblings, assisted our mom with this treasure hunt. Rita worked after school and she took along the savings she had accumulated to supplement our mom’s budget.
In the end, Rita purchased the crèche which replaced our mom’s original. Though I know my mom missed our lost decorations, she made the best of all that she and Rita found. She simply would not allow her disappointment to overshadow her Christmas plans for her children. Though we shared our mom’s sadness over what was lost, we celebrated the beautiful new things she and my sister found. The following year, it was as though these relatively new ornaments and figurines had been ours forever.
Luke’s gospel (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) tells us that Jesus received a far more difficult call to set aside the things of the past in order to embrace the next phase of his life. Jesus responded by approaching John for baptism with many other good people who heeded John’s invitation to make way for the coming of the Lord. While some thought that John himself might have been the long-awaited messiah, John assured all concerned that one mightier than he was on the horizon.
That Mighty One prayed quietly at the riverside after his baptism only to be singled out from above. God gazed lovingly upon Jesus and declared, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” You and I know that Jesus lived out his baptismal commitment with unquestionable love for every soul whom he encountered along the way. Though his circumstances were difficult at best, Jesus persisted. God’s words of encouragement provided the soothing mantra which kept Jesus going all the way to Calvary.
I think that my mom would concur that my childhood and her life without my dad often seemed difficult at best. Still, those days and every one since have been punctuated by calls to let go of the past and to move on to the challenges and blessings of each new day. Jesus’ baptism called him to the things that lay ahead which only he could attend to. Our baptisms call us to the same. The good news is that, before we set out to meet what lies ahead, God singles us out with the same words Jesus heard: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” Though they may not echo from the clouds above, we hear God’s words just the same in the depths of our hearts. They come to life each and every time we make those difficult, selfless choices which make all of the difference in the world to those around us. They also come to life when we need God most ourselves.
Our Christmas Tree finally found its way to the parkway and our decorations wait in the basement for Christmas 2013. Still, the Baptism of Jesus calls us to keep the promise of Christmas alive as we embrace each new day. After all, like Jesus, God has singled out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love.
©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved