Our Truly Wonderful Lives

This is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, the church closes the Christmas Season just as we have in our homes. I admit that I delayed the process for as long as possible. It was only when a local meteorologist promised bearable temperatures that I set aside my reluctance to assist my husband. Because our younger and more daring friend assisted Mike with the outdoor lighting, I tended to the indoors. I urged myself on with this year’s take-down-the-tree viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. Because I began my work in the living room and the television is in the family room, I raised the volume enough to allow me to hear the dialogue while I worked. This film is such a part of me that I can visualize every scene without watching a single frame. While the guys rolled up light strings outdoors, George Bailey and I became reacquainted indoors.

As I boxed ornaments and rolled up my own portion of lights, I celebrated the many people to whom George’s life had made all of the difference in the world. As I absorbed the dialogue, images from George Bailey’s life flooded my memory. The selfless decisions which defined George elicited frequent tears. Though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, I suffered every disappointment with George as though I had no idea that things would work out in the end. “Poor courageous George,” I thought to myself. “If only you realized just how good you are!” And so it went until the movie ended and our Christmas Tree was bare.

When Mike and I finished the tasks at hand, it was time to commit our tree to the parkway. There it would wait for a public works employee to toss it into a truck for the trip to the Land of Mulch. As I considered that barren tree, it occurred to me that George Bailey felt like that tree far too often. He should have felt good about the wonderful things he’d done for others. He saved his brother’s life and that of a sick child who was sent the wrong medicine by a distraught pharmacist. He took over his father’s business to prevent the loss of many jobs and many more homes. He used his own savings to send his brother to college in his place. All the while, George fought temptation in the form of Mr. Potter, the most miserly man in town, to stand up for God’s riff raff. Yes, George Bailey was a good man who gave the working poor and many others something to live for. Finally, when George felt that he had no more to give, the God-of-the-Riff-Raff stepped in through Clarence, a bumbling angel-to-be. If you watch the movie, you can join George in celebrating what truly was a wonderful life. Celebrating our lives on this earth is the point of our celebration of The Baptism of the Lord.

Matthew’s gospel (3:13-17) tells us that John the Baptizer was deeply inspired by Jesus. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John was reluctant to cooperate because he felt Jesus should baptize him. Though pleased with John’s faith, Jesus asked John to baptize him just the same. After John immersed Jesus in the Jordan River, God entered into the scene to announce to all who would hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” These words, proclaimed from the heavens over Jesus, were meant just as readily for John the Baptist, for the George Baileys among us, for you and for me. Though they don’t echo from the clouds above, God speaks these words just as clearly in the depths of our hearts. God’s words resound every time we embrace the difficult, selfless choices that make all of the difference in the world to those around us. When we feel we have no more to give, like George who was tempted to hurl himself off a bridge, God steps in. Though God’s appearance may not be as tangible as that of Clarence, God’s presence is very real.

Though I know how It’s A Wonderful Life will end, I cry through it every time I watch it. This phenomenon repeated itself in Jesus’ life as well. Jesus prayed often. Jesus revealed God’s love in his actions toward those who needed him and in stories like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus knew his life would end well, yet he suffered more disappointment and discouragement along the way than George Bailey. The same is true of you and me. Though our faith tells us that all will be well in the end, we worry inconsolably. When we fail to see the value of what we do, we join George Bailey on that bridge. Still, it’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall George’s joy when his life was given back to him. It’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall God’s words at the baptism of Jesus and realize that they are meant for us as well. “This is my beloved… with whom I am well pleased.” Yes, when we’re on that bridge, our lives are given back to us as well. This happy ending is truly the happiest beginning we will ever know!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Little Christmas

Because you cling to me,
I will deliver you…

From Psalm 91:16

When I was a child, my family referred to January 6 as Little Christmas. Though today we acknowledge this feast on the nearest Sunday, I still quietly celebrate The Epiphany whenever my calendar announces January 6. The Magi’s visit to the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was a very big deal. Wise astrologers that they were, the Magi had followed signs in the night sky which pointed to the arrival of Israel’s new king. The Magi didn’t waste the opportunity to pay homage to this child who they believed was destined for greatness.

At the moment, I’m taking the opportunity to enjoy my family’s depiction of this encounter at the creche beneath our Christmas Tree. As I pick up the pine needles which have fallen on this peaceful scene, I realize just how reluctant I am to let go of the hope and promise of Christmas 2019. Though most of us have returned to our pre-holiday routines, I’m holding tightly to as many remnants of Christmas as possible.

As I consider this holiday season which has come and gone so quickly, I’ve determined that it’s actually a blessing that Christmas creeps into shops and malls a few months early. That Christmas extends to January 6 is another happy circumstance. These reminders are with us for good reason. When we keep Christmas in mind, the hope and promise which that tiny baby brought to this world remain as well in God’s presence. Just as Jesus embraced every day which he walked among us, God embraces the moment at hand in our company. God is with us to endure, to survive and to celebrate every moment, especially those moments which change our lives forever. Whether these changes come with sorrow or joy, we live through them with God. Perhaps I should consider every day to be Little Christmas!

Loving God, thank you for making every day a Little Christmas by remaining with us in everything.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Someone Needs A Blanket

When the poor one called out, God heard,
and from all his distress God saved him.

Psalm 34:7

Every year, my husband begins our Christmas Tree decorating by trimming its trunk and securing it in its stand. For a day or two afterward, I string the lights and hang ornaments. While I work, my husband contemplates the tree’s lowest branches and the area beneath the tree. With great care, Mike plans the village which will fill that space. I offer meager assistance by unpacking numerous little houses, tiny trees and our crèche. I admit that I delay a bit as I unpack the stable and figures which will be the focal point of our little town of Bethlehem. Though I love the little structures which resemble the buildings of Jesus’ day, I pour over the tiny figures far longer.

I fully expect these tiny figures to answer when I ask what they were feeling back then. Though I can imagine what Mary and Joseph might say, I puzzle over the baby. “How aware where you that day? Were you planning out your life with that first cry in the night or where you simply protesting the cold? ‘Where’s my blanket?’ you might have wailed.” In the midst of my musing, the baby who rests in that tiny manger seems to ask that I leave him to his rest. He sends me off to bring blankets to those who need them far more than he.

As I reflect upon the miracle of God Among Us, I consider who it is who might need a blanket to ease his cold or to comfort her aching soul. That Bethlehem Baby seems insistent that it is up to me to do what I can to provide what is needed.

Loving God, your invitation to love one another sets the tone of every new day. Help me to respond as you would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Can I Do?

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the Lord.

Zechariah 2:14

As I relax for a few minutes in our family room, those aging plastic figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph beckon me nearer. I set aside my need to rest and walk to the door. Once again, I ask myself how I could have considered replacing them a few years ago. As I gaze at the peaceful scene before me, I consider the more difficult reality which Joseph and Mary faced that first Christmas…

The stable… If archaeologists and scripture scholars are correct, Mary actually gave birth to Jesus in a small cave. Those who have visited the site of Jesus’ birth express surprise over the size of this tiny space. Somehow, the cave’s cold rock makes a stable seem inviting. As I consider that cave which I’ve seen in photographs and videos, I wonder what I might have done to make Jesus’ arrival more comfortable.

My musing is of little consequence today unless it urges me to wonder further. What might I do today to make Jesus’ arrival more comfortable? I obviously count myself among those who find great consolation, peace, joy and purpose as a result of God’s presence in my life. What can I say or do to make these gifts more accessible to those who need them most? It seems to me that my actions will speak much more loudly than my words today. “What can I do,” I whisper, “to make someone aware of God’s love for them?”

What can I do…

Generous God, open my heart to your urging and to those who need you most. May I never miss an opportunity to share your loving presence.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Simple Joy

God is our God
and we are the people God shepherds,
the flock God guides.

Psalm 95:7

I’ve just come in from the screened porch just beyond our family room. Every year, that porch houses a Christmas Tree. This tree reigns over an antiquated nativity set of which my husband and I are very fond. The figures include Mary, Joseph, the Infant Jesus and two lambs. They are white plastic and resemble sets seen everywhere in our childhood neighborhoods decades ago. Though the figures have lost their allure in the light of day, they take on an awe-inspiring aura at night. After I decorate the porch tree with lights and red bows, my husband nestles these figures among greenery at its feet. The tree’s colorful bulbs silhouette each one in a heavenly glow. The white lights he adds to the greenery in which they sit seem to bring Joseph, Mary, the Baby and those little lambs to life.

Though I love the family Christmas Tree in our living room, it is this porch tree which I enjoy the throughout Advent and the Christmas Season. Actually, I most enjoy the figures of the Holy Family beneath that tree. They remind me of the amazing goodness God draws from the simplest moments of our lives.

Dear God, heaven and earth became one that first Christmas day. Thank you for Jesus who changed this world forever.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Still With Us

May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.

Psalm 72:17

In just two weeks, Christmas will be here. My husband has stolen away for a few well-deserved hours at the health club. I completed the tasks at hand and took full advantage of the quiet house. I settled myself in the living room at the feet of our Christmas Tree. Since childhood, this has been my favorite place to await Christmas Day.

I basked in the sparkling lights and inhaled the scent of pine. After a whimsical peek at the tree’s eclectic array of ornaments, my eyes rested upon the crèche below it. The tiny figurines huddled there give life to the greatest story ever told. I recalled childhood discussions with my mother regarding this amazing birth. I also recalled lessons offered by the good sisters which underscored all that my mother told me about that amazing baby boy. Heaven and earth came together the day Jesus was born! His story changed this world forever. As I sat beneath our Christmas Tree, I realized once again that his story has changed my own life forever as well.

No matter how some attempt to distort it, Jesus’ message regarding God’s unconditional love and God’s presence among us continues to instill hope.

Good and gracious God, I can never thank you enough for the gift of your love and your presence in my life. Gift all of your people with a tangible sense of your presence and hearts sensitive enough to respond.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved