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

God’s Very Real Love

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

While preparing for a Christmas gathering, I desperately tried to find places for items displaced by our Christmas decorations. Though my closet doesn’t have much room to spare, I looked for a useful nook. In the process, I bumped into a plastic container filled with a lifetime of mementos. Busy as I was, I allowed myself a very long minute to examine these treasures. I came across programs from the weddings of several loved ones. I couldn’t help smiling as I read the names of the maids of honor, best men and others involved. One of the programs included scripture readings which were shared that day. Among them, I found the passage from the Song of Songs cited above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. What we did not fully appreciate is that the lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries and came to fruition in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this unrequited love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your persistence. Today, busy as I am, I’ll slow down to bask in your loving gaze!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Comfort Them As Only You Can

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
…They will meet with joy and gladness.

From Isaiah 35:4-10

Gift Weekend at my parish church was a huge success. Hundreds of my fellow parishioners arrived for Mass with gifts they’d purchased for needy children and teens. The tremendous need which was met turned my thoughts to some of my students from long ago…

Most of the children in my classroom could hardly wait for Christmas. There were a few, however, who dreaded Christmas vacation. They found comfort in the structure of our classroom where the expected almost always came to fruition. Their school lunch was often the best of their meals and our simple class parties were the best of their Christmases. More sadly, the lack of material treasures in their lives paled in the shadow of their lack of security. The adults around them, heavily burdened with their own troubles, didn’t have the luxury of detecting the hopelessness growing in their children’s eyes.

My thoughts wander further to a child of long ago. While Joseph searched for a place where Mary could give birth, Mary focused upon the child within her. When they finally settled among the livestock that night, perhaps Joseph arranged the hay in that manger while Mary labored. Though it wasn’t much, that warm hay provided the best bed Mary and Joseph could offer Jesus that night. Perhaps the best we can do for those in need around us is to provide them with our own variety of hay. Though it may not be much, our best is always enough to those in need and to God.

God of love, help me to comfort those who need you most with my own variety of hay.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Time For Love

He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

From Mark 7:24

It’s Black Friday. Though early cyber sales and sneak previews drew much attention, crowds in stores and malls everywhere swell exponentially with every passing minute today. As I considered the mass of humanity of which I was a part this morning, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for those retailers who agreed not to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Of all of the holidays we celebrate in this country, Thanksgiving Day is the one we all enjoy without regard for our religious affiliations or lack thereof. I thanked God for the generosity of these employers whose workers enjoyed the holiday with their families yesterday.

After uttering a mental “amen” I returned to my list to determine where to go next. A voice near a cashier distracted me. This person remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As the man hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I’d found my own wealth in the few seemingly wasted moments which allowed me to get my bearings. While the world rushed about me, I also found the time to pray.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus rose early and stole away for quiet time as often as he could. The scriptures also tell us that these moments were usually disrupted by those who desperately needed Jesus. The same is true of you and me. Today, will you join me in trying to respond as Jesus would? Let’s bring a bit of Jesus’ patience, concern and love to the mass of humanity out there!

Dear God, our world grows busier every day. Help me to respond to those caught in the midst this busyness as you would. Remind me to pray a bit, too.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Nurture Hope

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

Isaiah 30:19

While I walked the mall with my husband, a long line of children waited to see Santa Claus. We chuckled about our sons’ first visits with the jolly old elf. As we continued our shopping, I recalled a decades earlier visit with Santa which almost ended badly for one of my students…

The week after Thanksgiving, Ronnie shared that he was going to prove to his older brother that Santa Claus is real. Ronnie planned to tell no one what he wanted for Christmas except Santa. When Ronnie visited Santa during his family’s annual day-after-Thanksgiving trek to the mall, he whispered into Santa’s ear so his gift would remain a secret. I’d hoped to catch Ronnie’s older brother in the hallway to let him in on Ronnie’s plan. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten this plan until winter break had begun. Though I normally set aside school concerns during the holidays to enjoy Christmas with my own family, that year I wondered often if Ronnie’s experiment had ended well. Happily, Ronnie returned to school in January with a bigger-than-ever smile.

Not long afterward, Ronnie’s mom shared that her older son had discovered Ronnie’s plan. As a result, the entire family went into detective-mode and they eventually discovered Ronnie’s Christmas wishes. So it was that Ronnie’s hope in Santa Claus remained intact for another year.

Loving God, when I see doubt in others, I sometimes wring my hands in despair because I don’t know how to convince them of your loving ways. Rather than fretting, help me to plant seeds of hope through everything I do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Take It Easy…

Stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.

Luke 21:28

Though I still savor yesterday’s wonderful meal, Thanksgiving Day is fading into memory. My husband and I have headed north to engage in our annual Christmas Tree hunt. Before we set out, I perused the newspaper which bulged with sale ads. My thoughts quickly turned to Black Friday shoppers. Some headed out before the leftovers were put away last night. Others left their beds in the wee hours this morning to take advantage of sales. Many who are working today will go directly to the mall afterward with the hope that their wish list items are still available. Indeed, the Christmas Shopping Season is here.

As for me, I’ve given some thought to shopping. My husband and I have picked up a few things here and there. Though today’s sales will make a dent in store inventories, empty shelves will be filled again soon enough. Retailers everywhere will seek our business through 11:59 on Christmas Eve. In the mean time, I invite you to join me in easing into Christmas 2018 as peacefully as possible.

I’m approaching my shopping needs in small increments. My husband and I will decorate in small increments as well. We enjoy the Christmas Season best of all and we hope to attend to every minute of it. In the process, we also hope to avoid the weariness which comes with trying to do too much in too little time. Will you join me in finding ways to remove just a bit of the hustle and bustle of the season from your life? In the end, we’ll both find ourselves enjoying Christmas more than ever.

Caring God, be with us as we prepare Christmas for our loved ones, for those who need us most and for you.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved