Joyful Expectation

Now the people were filled with expectation…
Luke 3:15

The week before Thanksgiving, I wrapped the Christmas gifts which my husband and I had already purchased. When he asked why I was determined to do this, I reminded him of our older son’s Advent discontent years earlier when he was in high school. Mike the Younger was having a tough time of it because I was a little too adept at keeping Christmas gifts “under wraps” before Christmas morning. Apparently, his friends’ parents wrapped and displayed gifts as soon as they were purchased. This allowed their offspring to engage in some good-natured detective work regarding what each package might contain. All of this added to their anticipation of their families’ gift exchanges. These antics also likely added to the joy Christmas morning when various guesses regarding the gifts at hand were proven to be accurate or not.

I gave a good deal of thought to my elder son’s complaint that year. I also considered his often reluctant and sometimes wholehearted participation in our family’s Advent traditions. Young Mike participated in our trek to Wisconsin for a Christmas Tree that year, but showed little interest in decorating it. When asked what he might like for Christmas, this son of ours provided a few ideas which implied that this wasn’t necessarily his main focus at the moment. At the same time, he quizzed his younger brother frequently about the contents of his Christmas wish list. Our elder child vacillated between wanting to celebrate and trying to ignore what had once been his favorite day of the year.

In an effort to rekindle the Joy of Christmas in my offspring, I decided to comply with his suggestion regarding our gifts. Since his younger brother had come to a “revised” understanding of Santa’s role in all of this, I knew there was no danger of ruining his Christmas in the process. When Mike came home from school that afternoon, I told him that I thought his idea of getting the gifts ready early was great. I added, “It’ll drive Tim and Dad crazy trying to figure out what we’ve gotten them.” Never mind that my elder son would join his dad and brother in this wondering! Every few days thereafter, I added a gift to our Christmas cache. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much package shaking. I think my three men feared ruining any surprises in the offing. They did, however, look very carefully to detect even the smallest change in the configuration of gifts which awaited them. In the process, they huddled together often to discuss the possibilities. In the end, the joyful anticipation of Christmas returned to our home.

As I look back upon that long-passed Advent, it occurs to me that my son probably didn’t actually care all that much about gifts being displayed early on. What did concern him was the sense of expectation that he had enjoyed as a little boy and that he could not recapture as a young man. Mike envied his friends’ opportunity to relish the promise of Christmas that their gifts represented. My son also wanted more than a one-day celebration which would come and go with the ticking of the clock. Though he likely didn’t realize it, Mike wanted and needed an experience which lasted the entire season! In a roundabout way, my dear son found this in the family tradition which we initiated that year and in the many other traditions which are part and parcel of our family Christmases. This is the reason I prepared this year’s gifts early. Though the flu kept my son Mike and his family from examining those gifts on Thanksgiving Day, there is still plenty of time for them to peek at the wrapped treasures where a hint of the promise of Christmas Joy lies.

You know, the people who awaited the Messiah were restless and unsure of that coming, much like my son who wrestled with the coming of Christmas. Their sometimes intense expectation was often overshadowed by their extremely difficult lives under Roman rule. In his gospel (Luke 3:10-18), Luke tells us that God responded to the people’s angst through John the Baptist. John rekindled the people’s anticipation with the good news that the Messiah already walked among them. John did everything to ensure that those who heard him took notice. Luke tells us that the people held onto John’s every word and were “…filled with expectation.” They rejoiced because something great was in the making. Finally, this life’s imperfections faded in the joy of a promise fulfilled. Though we hear John the Baptist’s message two millenniums later than his contemporaries, the good news remains the same. The Messiah continues to walk among us. All the while, he fills us with joyful anticipation of the moment at hand and of the amazing things to come!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Prepare The Way…

On that day,
A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse…

Isaiah 11:1

It was two years ago that I had my shoulder repaired. Though I survived this ordeal, the month of November, especially Thanksgiving Day, has unexpectedly elicited related memories. I recall timing the surgery so Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations would distract me from the painful recovery which I was warned would come. As it happened, these distractions weren’t as helpful as I’d hoped. Still, the pain wasn’t as horrific as expected either. I eventually learned to put my incapacitation to good use. As a result, I embraced Advent 2013 with great fervor.

You know, Advent 2015 begins tomorrow. Once again, I am given four weeks to engage in joyful anticipation of Christmas. Most years, except for 2013, it is extremely difficult for me to find the time to truly and joyfully anticipate this feast. There is just so much to do. As I look ahead to the next twenty-seven days, I’ve decided to recapture the simplified life-style which was forced upon me after my surgery. This year, I’m going to prioritize, organize and enjoy the wait for Christmas.

Will you join me in seeking a bit of simplification as well? Though none of us can shirk all of our responsibilities, we can all probably let a few things fall to the wayside. Trust me. Once you start, this will become easier than you think!

Loving God, heaven touched the earth the day Jesus was born. This year, help us to celebrate this miracle joyfully.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Tasty Morsels of Joy

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

From Psalm 145

As I passed the calendar in our kitchen this morning, I was tempted to count the days until my next post-op check-up. This visit with my doctor will occur just two days before Christmas. On that day, I will be given some indication of when I can dispose of my arm sling. I would have begun that count if falling snow outside the window had not caught my eye and reminded me that there are far more important things to anticipate on this December day. So it was that I abandoned my calendar and took a few minutes to sit before our Christmas Tree.

Ornaments which mark our granddaughters’ birth caught my eye. Hmmm. These three celebrate the wait for Christmas by attending to their Advent Calendars. Each day, the girls take turns placing a little stuffed animal or person onto the calendar’s Nativity scene which hangs in their kitchen. On December 25, Baby Jesus will complete the scene. Three other calendars rest on the kitchen counter. Every day, the girls open one door on their calendars where a tiny piece of chocolate rests. These usually forbidden treats give my little granddaughters a small taste of the joyful anticipation that is meant to characterize our Advent observances. As the girls savor those tiny morsels of chocolate, I consider how I might savor this joyful time of waiting a bit more positively.

Loving God, I am blessed to know the promises of that first Christmas. Help me to focus upon the miracle of your presence among us and to anticipate this Christmas with a truly joyful heart -especially when my convalescence distracts me. And, dear God, please bless those who suffer far more than I do today.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate the Joy

I clearly recall my once fervent displeasure with the early arrival of Christmas paraphernalia in malls and stores. I moaned aloud when I found Christmas decorations across the aisle from Halloween candy and costumes. For me, it was “bah” and “humbug” until the day after Thanksgiving when the Christmas Shopping Season officially opened. This propensity to delay acknowledgement of Christmas’s arrival for as long as possible is the result of my teaching experience. The longer I kept thoughts of Santa and gift lists out of my students’ psyches, the longer they remained productive. Productive children behave far better than their distracted peers. In spite of this reality, I admit that my openness to early glimpses of Christmas has increased exponentially over the past several years.

For quite some time now, I have found that I enjoy every suggestion of the Spirit of Christmas. It may come in a figurine of Santa kneeling before a manger, Charlie Brown and his twig of a Christmas Tree, Mannheim Steamroller’s rendition of The Carol of the Bells streaming from my car radio or my granddaughters dancing with glee around their family’s carefully selected Christmas Tree. I know many continue to suffer during this tough economic time. Still, I felt a bit of joy the other day when a newscaster reported that consumers will spend a little more this year. He added that this will come about because these purchases will be frugal and well-planned. “This is as it should be,” I told myself. “We need to start planning for Christmas long before Thanksgiving. We need to plan for Christmas all year long!”

You see, I am happy to extend the Christmas Season these days because, to me, it most resembles God’s intent for us here on this earth. Christmas brings out the best of those who celebrate it. Just as my granddaughters dance in anticipation around their undecorated Christmas Tree, when God and humanity became one, we found cause to dance as well. Hope came to life in the Child Jesus. Living with that hope offers our best opportunity to enjoy this life as we prepare for the things to come.

This First Sunday of Advent, the scriptures say a good deal about planning ahead. Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-5) speaks of a reign of peace to which all good people will be drawn. During this time, soldiers will fashion their weapons into tools for the harvest and no nation will ever again rise against another. Isaiah describes the time when the people will walk in the light of the Lord. We prepare for this time by seeking out that light in the here and now. Paul(Romans 13:11-14) echoes Isaiah when he tells us the reign of peace is so close that we must live as though it is already here. In Matthew 24:37-44, Jesus warns his followers to stay awake and to be prepared, for one never knows when the Son of Man will arrive. Jesus uses the example of a homeowner who would never have gone to sleep if he had known a robber was coming. So it is that Jesus tells us to be prepared as well. Jesus underscores Isaiah’s and Paul’s urging by calling us to live as though the Son of Man is among us. If we truly believe what we profess each week, we realize that this is the case after all. We can never fully experience the joys of heaven on this earth. However, we can certainly offer glimpses and tastes of heaven’s wonder in the joyful anticipation we share with those we have been given to love.

This Advent 2013, I invite you to join me in responding with my granddaughters’ enthusiasm to the many opportunities that lie before us. I invite you to join me in a dance of gratitude for the gift of the people we have been given to love in our homes and out in the world. I invite you to join me in a dance of praise before our generous God who humbled the Divine to become one of us. I invite you to join me in a dance of celebration over the hope that we find in Jesus. I invite you to dance your way through this Advent by happily doing good in joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth. Afterward, let us dance on into 2014 when we will prepare the way of the Lord once again -living the Hope of Christmas every day until we meet once again at Advent’s onset.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Recuperate and Rejoice

He called them, and immediately they left
their boat and their father and followed him.

Matthew 4:22

As my convalescence continues, I am becoming more adept at utilizing quiet time. My morning greeting to the Lord God is much longer. My habitually quick thanks for a good night’s sleep have evolved into a descriptive accounting of my recent attempts at increased independence. When my husband leaves to take care of the day’s errands, I devise ways to complete chores here at home in one-armed fashion. I stop after each attempt to update the Lord God as though he is completely unaware of my handiwork. Mind you, I don’t complain. I simply talk God’s ear off hour after hour as though there is nothing else in this world that requires Divine intervention. Yes, these weeks of waiting to be free of my arm sling have proven to be quite fruitful, especially with regard to my relationship with God.

You know, the Season of Advent begins tomorrow. We are given four weeks to engage in joyful anticipation of Christmas. In years past, is has been extremely tough for me to find the time to truly joyfully anticipate this feast. Sadly, I have been too busy. This year, the simplified life-style which has been temporarily forced upon me has proven to be a true blessing.

I encourage you to seek a bit of simplification for yourself. Though you may not be able to shirk as many of your responsibilities as I have, are there a few activities which you can let fall to the wayside? Is there something that you can let go of so you can embrace that joyful anticipation after all? Trust me. It’s easier than you may think!

Loving God, you have turned my convalescence into a true blessing. Please, help your other children who may be ailing in spirit to find ways to recuperate. Fill them with the joy that only you can bring.

©Mary E. Penich All Rights Reserved