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

Jesus Transforms And So Should I

I’d just returned from numerous errands. Winter’s cold imposed a chill in spite of my warm coat. As I hurried into the house, I reassessed our Christmas decorations. Fraser fir needles threatened to overtake the living room carpet. Still, I whispered a compliment to our drooping tree. “You’ve served us well, dear one.” With that, I set aside my coat and sat by the tree for a while. Though I shivered in spite of the humming furnace, I forgot my discomfort as I perused that tree from top to bottom. When my eyes rested upon the crèche below it, I wondered what Mary and Joseph were doing two millenniums ago. What was their life like after the unsettling circumstances of Jesus’ birth faded? What sense did that poor couple make of the trials and tribulations of raising a baby boy destined to be anything but ordinary?

Our Christmas cards and carols offer peace-filled images of those early days. They tell us that angels sang on a silent night. Shepherds responded with awe. One drummer boy drummed. Night Wind asked Little Lamb, “Do you see what I see?” A more recent composition inquires, “Mary, did you know?” Beautiful as they are, our cards and carols overlook much of the reality of the first Christmas. These symbols of the season speak eloquently of Peace on Earth. Still, for Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ arrival was an emotional and trying time at best. The months and years which followed tested Jesus’ parents even more harshly.

On this Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we recall astrologers who traveled a long distance to find a very special child. The scriptures tell us that this trio amazed Mary and Joseph with their attention to Jesus. Did any of them realize the significance of that visit? When the Magi returned home with news of that long-awaited birth, they carried hope beyond the Jewish community to all the world. Sadly, their unprecedented act of faith came at a great price. When the Magi stopped at Herod’s palace to learn what he might have known about that newborn king, they alerted the tyrant to a possible threat to his throne. Fortunately, these three were indeed wise men. They heeded an angel’s warning and avoided Herod when they set out to their homeland. Nonetheless, while the Magi shared the good news of Jesus’ birth along their way, Herod slaughtered every Jewish boy under the age of two, except for one, to rid himself of his rival. So much for Peace on Earth!

Joseph, a wise man as well, also listened to an angel. That heavenly messenger directed Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The three remained there until Herod’s death. Though Joseph hoped to return to Judea, he found that Herod’s son occupied the throne. In the end, Joseph moved his family to Galilee and settled in Nazareth. There, Joseph and Mary raised Jesus to be devout in his faith and dedicated to his trade. The next mention of Jesus in the scriptures is a trip to Jerusalem during Passover. Jesus was twelve years old when he remained among temple scholars to study while his parents journeyed home only to return for him a few days later. After this passage, the gospels lapse once again until Jesus’ public ministry began when he was thirty years old. I can only imagine all that Mary and Joseph did to help Jesus to prepare for that day…

I admit that I lingered in the glow of our Christmas Tree for some time before beginning this writing. As I reflected upon Jesus’ birth and his encounter with the astrologers, I considered Jesus’ impact on this world of ours. You know, Mary and Joseph refocused their entire lives because of Jesus. The Magi altered their journey home to safely carry their news to places where it would otherwise have been unknown. In the years that followed, imagine how Nazareth evolved as little Jesus grew into a tradesman and itinerant preacher. Jesus’ preaching and those who listened to him eventually changed the course of human history. Knowing Jesus has changed the course of my life as well. Now what am I going to change?

My husband and I truly enjoy preparing our home for Christmas. Every light we string and ornament we hang speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. Everything we do speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. Everything we do testifies to Jesus’ presence in our lives far more than anything we might say. It seems to me that today’s feast invites us to consider if our lives’ “testimony” is all it can be. I’m grateful that we have all of New Year 2020 to find out and to adjust accordingly!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Here, then, is the message we have heard and announce to you:
that God is light; in God there is no darkness.

1 John 1:5

On the third day of Christmas, I always think of my dad. Today is his birthday and I hope he is celebrating with great gusto. My dad passed away many years ago at age 39. He has celebrated far more birthdays in the afterlife than he celebrated here.

When I was a little girl, the date of my dad’s birthday troubled me a bit. I thought that my dad was shortchanged. I asked him if he minded that his birthday fell two days after Christmas. Good man that he is, Daddy replied that this was okay. He felt that Christmas was a very good day which led into his own very, very good day. Because my grandparents had little money, I’m quite certain that my dad didn’t receive many gifts on either day. Still, he shared his memories with a smile big enough to convince this daughter that his childhood Christmases and birthdays were just fine.

This is a small parcel of the wisdom my dad shared with me. Happily, he always did so with a smile. Today, I’m going to allow myself a piece of cake in my dad’s honor -a sweet reminder of his sweet presence in my life. We’re going to party together in my heart.

Generous God, thank you for my dad who is among the best of those who have shown me your love. As you well know, Daddy did this with great competence and with a flourish which will never be replaced.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More Christmas!

Following this, they selected Stephen,
a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit…”

From Acts of the Apostles 6:5

I enjoy the day after Christmas. What a gift this is! Our Christmas preparations have come to fruition in one way or another. Today, there is nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy the successes of our celebrations and, perhaps, to clean up a bit. As I ponder all that went well yesterday, I give thanks. Truly, I’m generously blessed. In gratitude, I insist to myself that I will disregard anything which was not to my liking or is out of my control. At the same time, I will pray for all concerned, including myself. After all, I’m the only one over whom I have jurisdiction.

In spite of the imperfections of my life, I hope to celebrate for a very long time the God who offered heaven to us from the hands of a little baby. Today, on this Feast of St. Stephen, I hope to be known as a good and just soul just as Stephen was. Like the good Stephen, I hope to take all that Jesus means to this world to heart and to share these things generously. Like the good Stephen, I hope to present a worthy heart -as best mine can be- to God one day. In the process, I hope to bring a bit of Christmas to every day.

Dear God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2019 and for the Gift of the first Christmas. Jesus truly changed my life and this world forever!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Christmas Love

This is Christmas Day. In my parish church, our Nativity scene, a forest of lighted trees and a garden of beautiful poinsettias set the scene. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. Things were a little different three weeks ago when our parish family immersed itself in Gift Weekend. The sanctuary was filled with packages and gift bags of every size and color. Our statue of Mary was lost behind that mountain of generosity. Rather than today’s folding chairs which provide extra seating, the gathering space was filled with an assortment of bicycles. As that weekend unfolded, I found myself wiping away tears multiple times. I pictured my fellow parishioners shopping with gift tags for those in need in hand. I also imagined this Christmas Day when hundreds of men and women, teens and toddlers will open those gifts with great excitement and appreciation. When I left church that day, my heart was filled with at least as much love as our church building had been. When I arrived at home, I decided I was in the perfect mindset to prepare this Christmas reflection.

As I pondered the miracle of this holy day, I couldn’t shake the images of those gifts and the smiling people who would welcome them. Suddenly, a little boy I met many years ago came to mind. Isaac was an expert regarding matters of the heart and his capacity to love was second to few. Just like my parish’s efforts on Gift Weekend, and throughout the year for that matter, it seemed to me that his generous gesture many Christmases ago captured the spirit and the love with which God touched this earth on the first Christmas Day…

Isaac was one of my students because he needed a little direction in developing his reading skills. On our way to and from my classroom each day, we had the opportunity to talk. It isn’t often that children have an adult to themselves and my students took full advantage of the situation. Isaac was no exception. I knew the latest regarding his mother’s lengthy disabling illness and his father’s efforts to care for her and the children. I knew about his older brother’s return from the military for an early Christmas visit and that Isaac read from a little prayer-book every night. The last day of school before winter break, Isaac shared something very special which remains with me today.

I’d purchased a small Christmas gift for each of my students. When I retrieved them for their lessons, I asked that they bring their book bags along so they could put away their gifts and forget about them until they arrived at home after school. When I gave Isaac the package with his name on it, his eyes became saucers. He examined the wrapping and the card addressed to him. “Can I put this under my Christmas Tree?” he asked. I told him that he could do whatever he and his mom and dad wanted him to do. It was his gift, after all. Now when Isaac came to school every day, he arrived clean, having had breakfast, and ready to do his best, though in the same shirt and slacks for the week. Isaac didn’t enjoy the luxuries we sometimes take for granted. Still, his family was rich in love. When Isaac opened his book bag to store his gift, he said, “I have something for you. I have a gift for you.”

Isaac took me completely by surprise. His dad was among the working poor and certainly couldn’t afford gifts for his children’s teachers. I finally understood when Isaac reached into his bag and pulled out a green two-headed dragon. I told Isaac that it was a great dragon, but that I would be very happy just knowing that he enjoyed playing with it. Still, Isaac persisted. “I was going to trade it for Poke’mon, but I want you to have it instead.” At the time, anything Poke’mon was a valued commodity. Isaac had planned to trade his dragon for one of his classmate’s coveted collectibles. He abandoned this plan to show his reading teacher how much he cared for her. When I finally composed myself, I asked Isaac if his mom or dad would mind that he left the toy with me. “Oh, no, Mrs. P. They would want me to give it to you. It’s for Christmas.” With that, Isaac and I made a prominent place on my bookshelf for that dragon. Afterward, I told Isaac that he could take the dragon home anytime he wanted to. “Are you taking your present back?” he asked. “Never,” I told him. Isaac responded, “Neither am I.” I kept that two-headed dragon for more than a decade. After Isaac had been promoted from eighth grade and graduated high school, I gave it to another little boy who needed a taste of the love which filled Isaac’s heart.

God touched this world with selfless love two thousand Christmases ago. Jesus spent thirty-three years showing us how to share that love. Isaac’s parents paid attention and they passed on what they learned to their son. Isaac paid attention and he passed on what he learned to me. Today, we pay attention as well. Now, it is up to us to pass on what we’ve learned as we tend lovingly to those we meet along the way.

Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

There’s Always Room

“For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all people.”

From Isaiah 56:7

Finally, I feel prepared for Christmas. Everything here at home is ready and I can hardly wait to celebrate with my family. Everything at our parish church is ready, too. Since our parish was founded, my husband, our friend Terry and a crew of dedicated volunteers have decorated our worship space for Christmas. Before we had a church building, they transformed the school gym we rented into a beautiful and prayerful space. Since our church building was completed, they’ve done the same to inspire all who come with Christmas joy.

As always, we expect standing-room-only crowds. Like all churches, our numbers include “Christmas and Easter Birds” whose only appearances occur on these two holy days. This is fine with us. Like family, we know they are coming and we make every effort to seat them as comfortably as possible. All concerned work extremely hard to prepare our beautifully adorned church, amazing music and engaging liturgy. Everyone from our youngest parish children to our devoted seniors is involved. Our hope is that all who join us feel welcome. After all, our church is God’s house! And, after all, it’s Christmas! What better day is there to welcome everyone home?

Loving God, you open your house to all who come to your door. While some of us feel free to knock often, there are others who don’t. Please inspire all of your children to realize that they are welcome to your home any time and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved