Fill Them With Joy

God will be gracious to you when you cry out;
as soon as God hears, God will answer you.

From Isaiah 30:19

It was early December during the year I was assigned to teach second grade. A little boy in my class Joey arrived at school in tears. It was the eve of St. Nicholas Day and Joey’s older brother announced that he was not putting out his shoes in anticipation of a visit from the jolly old saint. He had told poor Joey that this tradition was for babies and that no one would be visiting their apartment that night. Joey had placed his hope in this yuletide saint for as long as he could remember because his grandparents had brought this tradition with them from their homeland. Joey was crestfallen over his brother’s loss of hope. I knew that Joey’s family had recently experienced a rough turn of events and I wondered if his older brother knew that there was no money for “extras” this year.

I consoled Joey as best I could and then decided to arrange for a visit from St. Nicholas at school. I expanded our social studies lesson that day to include a discussion of holiday traditions. After Joey and his classmates shared their family traditions, I asked if they’d like to prepare for a visit from St. Nicholas. The possibility of unexpected surprises resulted in unanimous agreement. At the end of the day, the children left their gym shoes on their desks. After school, I hurried out to purchase small treats and crayons for each of them. The next morning, I arrived early to fill their shoes with these treasures. When I went outdoors to gather my students, Joey ran to me to report that St. Nicholas had indeed visited his home. “Even my big brother found stuff in his shoes!” So did Joey’s classmates.

Dear God, when I see unhappiness and doubt in others, help me to replace their hopelessness with your joy.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Give Hope… Give Jesus…

This First Sunday of Advent would have taken me by surprise if I hadn’t been sick a few weeks ago. Since he didn’t quite believe that I would be fine on my own, my husband stayed around the house the first few days of my ordeal. Mike used this time productively by pulling out our Christmas decorations. I admit that his effort gave me reason to perk up a bit. Though I was in no shape to carry boxes, I was able to look over the treasures within them. In the midst of all of this, I announced that there was very good reason for my illness. It had provided the perfect opportunity to purge ourselves of the items we’d planned to give away in years past. We’d failed to do this before because we habitually decided what to part with in January when we took down our Christmas Tree. It’s not helpful to donate Christmas decorations in January, so we stowed them away. This year, our effort would be perfectly timed!

As I looked over this lifetime of Christmas treasures, I couldn’t help tearing up a bit. Every year, my mom fashioned a tiny village beneath our family Christmas Tree. When Mike and I married, we did the same. Like most newlyweds at the time, money was scarce. Still, we purchased a neighborhood of tiny cardboard houses and a Nativity Set. Mike dressed up the houses by glittering the rooftop of each one. Though we’d used them for years afterward, they look like new. Since we purchased a more sturdy village some years ago, I boxed those sweet little houses for another family to enjoy. When I was feeling better a few days later, I dropped off those houses and everything else at the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store. I admit that, at the last minute, I almost pulled those little houses from the pile of items we were donating. I worried that their new owner might not realize what they still mean to me. When I finally decided to let go of my precious houses, I hoped that they would bring another family as much joy as they had brought me.

As I drove back home, I distracted myself from my regret with thoughts of this writing and the approach of Christmas. It occurred to me that my predicament gave me a small taste of what God may have experienced when God placed Jesus in our care. I had given up just a few little houses. God had sent a son -God’s only son- to dwell among us. Just as is the case with my little Christmas houses, there were no guarantees that we would care for this child as much as God cared for him. Still, God trusted us with Jesus and hope came to life for humankind. Living with hope in the present moment and hope in the things to come is precisely what Advent and all of our lives are about.

This First Sunday of Advent, the scriptures encourage us by providing good reason for our hope. In the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-5), the prophet speaks of a reign of peace to which all people will be drawn. During this end time, soldiers will fashion their weapons into tools for the harvest and no nation will ever again rise against another. Isaiah describes a time when the people will walk in the light of the Lord, a time for which we all should prepare by seeking out that light in the here and now. In the second reading (Romans 13:11-14), Paul tells us again that the reign of peace is so close that we simply must live as though it is already here. In the gospel (Matthew 24:37-44), Jesus urges his followers to stay awake and to be prepared because one never knows when the Son of Man will come. Jesus urges us to be ready as well. It seems to me that Isaiah and Paul underscore Jesus’ urging by calling us to live as though the Son of Man is among us. Indeed, if we truly believe what we profess each week, we know that Jesus is here after all. Though we will never fully experience the joys of heaven on this earth, we can certainly enjoy glimpses and tastes of heaven’s wonder in our care for those we’ve been given to love.

This Advent, I invite you to join me in letting go. Better yet, I invite you to join me in happily sharing our gifts with genuine enthusiasm. Just as I came to imagine a grateful family placing my little houses under their Christmas Tree this year, God imagines us making the most of the gift of Jesus’ presence in our lives. We all get to imagine the grateful souls whom you and I will touch when we choose to share what we have. In the process, our generosity will bring hope to others and it will bring Jesus to us all. Happy Advent!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved