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

Share God’s Treasure

Though my mom passed away in 2003, my sisters and I finally dealt with the last box of her things at a family gathering in early December. This single cardboard carton holds the costume jewelry which had become our mom’s hallmark. My sister Rita had meticulously sorted and bagged each item so it can be sold or donated. Rita left it to me to determine what to do as she’d done quite enough in this regard. When I took the box to the door, I turned to ask my sister about a little gold ring my mom had allowed me to wear for very special dates while I was in high school and college. This very thin band sports two tiny rubies and a small pearl, none of which may be authentic. All of us had gone through my mom’s jewelry several times and we never came across that ring. Though I’d assumed long ago that it had been lost, I had to ask about it one last time. My sister assured me that the ring wasn’t among my mom’s treasures. With that, I stowed the box in my car and headed home.

A few weeks later, I took out a wreath pin to wear for a Christmas gathering. Because it has gold-colored trim, I searched for gold earrings. I didn’t have much time to spare and I was becoming more annoyed with each passing minute of my search. I did find two small boxes of gold jewelry which hadn’t seen the light of day in quite some time. I thumbed through the first where I found two gold hoops of different sizes. Though it occurred to me to wear them with the hope that no one would compare earlobes, I decided to look in the other box for matching earrings. While thumbing through the contents, I found a matching pair. When I took out the earrings, I noticed something dangling from one of them. When I looked closer, I couldn’t believe what I saw: My mom’s little gold ring! I immediately called to my dear husband, “Mike, I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! I’ve found my mother’s ring!” The poor man had to listen as I recounted my sisters’ and my years-long search for this elusive bit of jewelry. How had it gotten into that little box? I hadn’t seen that ring since before my mom passed away.

Needless to say, I wore my mom’s ring that evening. I also repeated my tale regarding this amazing discovery several times throughout that party. The following morning, I shared my good news again in the gathering space here at St. Paul’s. All the while, I pictured my mom smiling broadly. That little ring was a gift from my father. She loved that ring and she wore it often. My occasional requests to wear that ring signaled to my mom that I really liked the boy I was dating at the time. My mom’s permission to wear that little gold band signaled to me that my mom loved me and that she trusted me with her treasures. I still can’t get over my good fortune in all of this and I still can’t help sharing this good news with anyone who will listen.

It occurs to me that our treasures aren’t meant to be hoarded and good news is meant to be shared. The scripture passages we hear today echo these sentiments. The Old Testament chronicles God’s attempts to share everything with us. When centuries of attempts to build a relationship with us humans failed, God sent Jesus to give a voice to God’s intent and to give flesh and bone to God’s love. In the first reading (Isaiah 60:1-6), Isaiah called Jerusalem to celebrate this amazing relationship with God. Isaiah insisted that God’s presence among the people made them shine bright enough to guide all of the world in God’s direction. God commissioned Israel to welcome all who would join them as God’s family. The second reading (Ephesians 3:2-3a; 5-6) underscores Isaiah’s proclamation. The author who wrote with Paul’s authority reminded the people “…that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This news of the inclusion of all continues through Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:1-12). Matthew noted that when Joseph and Mary welcomed the Magi, they offered their relationship with God to the entire world. When the Magi returned to their homes, they carried this good news to all whom they met along their way. The treasure they’d discovered far out-valued my little gold ring and they shared it as generously as my mom had.

On this Feast of the Epiphany, we’re invited to celebrate God’s love for us in precisely the same way. Though we’ve packed away our Christmas decorations, God asks us to carry the good news of Jesus coming and God’s love for us wherever we go. God asks us to be modern-day Magi who share the treasure we’ve discovered. Like Jesus, our words and our deeds speak of God’s love to our neighbors, our coworkers and grocery cashiers, to everyone we meet at school and here at St. Paul’s and to our own spouses, children and loved ones. The treasure we find on this Feast of the Epiphany is the same treasure that I found in being allowed to wear my mom’s ring: God’s love and God’s trust in us to share that love with the rest of God’s family.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love with Words and Deeds

The near-zero temperature didn’t keep me indoors this morning. I had a few last-minute items to pick up for tomorrow’s family gathering. Much to my good fortune, the store wasn’t yet crowded and I found everything I needed with minimal effort. As I walked to the car, the cold imposed a piercing chill in spite of my warm clothing. During the drive home, I offered a serious prayer of gratitude when the car heater kicked in and its warmth penetrated my tingling toes. More cold greeted me when I stepped into our garage. As I hurried into the house, I offered my thanks once again, this time for our humming furnace. Though I don’t often think much of the conditions around me, this cold spell has certainly captured my attention. After stowing the groceries, I allowed myself a few minutes to warm up in the good company of our Christmas Tree.

A few needles had fallen here and there. Still, our Fraser Fir reigned majestically over our living room. “Dear Tree, you’ve served us well,” I said aloud. Though I continued to shiver a bit in spite of that humming furnace, I soon forgot my discomfort as I perused our decorated tree from top to bottom. My eyes eventually rested on the little village and crèche which lie at its feet. Though I love my husband’s handiwork in creating this tiny version of Bethlehem each year, I know that the Bethlehem which greeted Mary and Joseph more than two millenniums ago wasn’t nearly as peaceful. Our visit to the Holy Land last year offered us a taste of the narrow bustling streets which Mary and Joseph navigated to find lodging. After having no success, Mary and Joseph had to welcome their newborn son in a dark and dingy cave. I imagined what life must have been like after the excitement of Jesus’ birth faded into the tribulations of raising the baby boy destined to be the Messiah.

What struck me most about the Holy Family’s homeland was the close proximity of the important places mentioned in the scriptures. Throughout our travels, we often visited three or more sites in a given day. Of course, we did so via a comfortable coach bus which traveled paved highways at a clip. All the while, I noted the arid rocky landscape. Even with paths trodden by the scores of pilgrims who’d gone before them, travel for Mary and Joseph was difficult at best. What seemed “close proximity” to me presented a daunting challenge every time Mary and Joseph ventured beyond their own village limits. This is the reason that the efforts of the Magi to pay homage to Jesus were so remarkable.

These astrologers traveled a terribly long distance to find Jesus, probably more than five hundred miles. By the time the Magi arrived at Joseph and Mary’s door, Jesus was probably two years old. How amazed Mary and Joseph must have been by the Magi’s great reverence for Jesus! Unfortunately, this unprecedented act of faith came at a great price. These travelers had stopped at Herod’s palace to learn what he might have known about the newborn king. Their inquiry unintentionally alerted the tyrant to a possible threat to his throne. Of course, Herod’s only response was to rid his world of this potential king. Fortunately, the Magi were indeed wise men. They heeded an angel’s warning to avoid Herod when they returned to their homeland. Sadly, while the Magi planned to share with their own countrymen the good news that they’d found Jesus, Herod plotted to protect his throne with the slaughter of all Jewish boys under the age of two. Herod was determined to rid himself of the potential king. As I turned my eyes back to the little village under our tree, I sadly acknowledged that humankind’s hope for peace on earth and good will toward others was far from reality in Jesus’ day just as it is today. Still, the Magi shared the news of the treasure they’d traveled so far to encounter. Still, Mary and Joseph persisted in loving and caring for Jesus as only they could.

I had sat before our Christmas Tree for almost an hour when I looked up to discover snowflakes fluttering about. Idyllic as this vision seemed to be, reality quickly set in. When I approached the window for a closer look, I brushed against the cold glass and shivered once again. As I rubbed my arm in an effort to dispel the cold, I realized that Jesus’ world was uncomfortable as well. Just as I was forced to attend to this morning’s freezing temperature, all concerned had to dispel doubt and discouragement to make room for Jesus in their hearts. Mary and Joseph refocused their entire lives to parent Jesus. The Magi traveled treacherous byways to find Jesus. Jesus himself turned his quiet life topsy-turvy when he began teaching and living out God’s message of love and mercy and welcome. In the end, Jesus’ life among us changed those he met along the way and it changed the course of human history. That wonderful life has changed me as well.

My husband and I truly enjoy decorating for Christmas. Every light strung and ornament hung speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. I think everything we do speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. It seems to me that today’s feast provides each of us the perfect opportunity to assess what our lives are saying to those around us. I’m grateful that I have all of New Year 2018 to respond!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Epiphany

I’m amazed that New Year’s Day 2017 is already a memory. Though my dear husband prefers to take down our Christmas Tree the day after, the tree remains intact. We’re hosting our extended family for a post-Christmas visit this weekend and I want to share our decorating efforts with them. I admit that in spite of the holiday décor which surrounds me, our home feels a bit empty. Today, the tree’s branches droop just enough to expose the bare spots which I carefully filled with ornaments and bows just a few weeks ago. Angel costumes which our granddaughters wore for Christmas Eve Mass are stored for another year. The gifts that filled the study where I write have been given and the last of the wrapping and boxes gave way to our recycle pick-up last week. Even the trays which held mounds of Christmas cookies lie empty. I shiver in spite of the humming furnace this chilly afternoon and I wonder. What were Mary and Joseph doing two millennia ago after the excitement of Jesus’ birth faded into the trials and tribulations of raising the baby boy who would be the Messiah?

Our Christmas stories and hymns offer numerous scenarios regarding the Nativity. On that silent and holy night, angels sang and shepherds responded. A drummer boy drummed. Night Wind asked Little Lamb, “Do you see what I see?” Another composition inquires, “Mary, did you know?” In the midst of this musing I force myself to acknowledge that Jesus’ birth began an emotional and trying time for the Holy Family. The events which followed tested Mary and Joseph harshly.

While this little family began their life together, astrologers traveled a great distance to find them. When they did, they certainly surprised Mary and Joseph with their reverence for Jesus. This visit began Jesus’ ministry far beyond the borders of the Jewish community to the entire world. When Joseph and Mary welcomed the Magi into their home, they unknowingly offered relationships with God to people everywhere. Unfortunately, this gift came at a great price. When the Magi inquired as to what Herod knew of the newborn king, they inadvertently alerted the tyrant to a possible threat to his throne. Fortunately, these wise men took an angel’s warning to avoid Herod when they left for their homeland. Joseph, a wise man as well, listened to a second angel who directed him to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. Joseph took his family far from Herod who had ordered the slaughter of all Jewish boys under the age of two to rid himself of the potential king.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus remained in Egypt until news came of Herod’s death. Though Joseph hoped to return to Judea, he found that Herod’s son had taken his father’s throne. To avoid further threats, Joseph took his family to Galilee and settled in Nazareth. There, Joseph and Mary raised Jesus to be a devout Jew and a good carpenter. The next mention of Jesus in the scriptures is a trip to Jerusalem during Passover when Jesus stayed behind to study in the temple while his parents journeyed home. It was a day into their walk before Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. Mary thought her twelve-year-old had joined the men because he was old enough. Joseph thought Jesus had joined the women because he was so young. When they finally found him, Jesus responded to his parents’ worry by insisting that he had to be about his Father’s business. Still, Jesus obediently followed them home. Again, the gospels lapse until Jesus’ public life began at age thirty. A shiver takes hold of me as I consider all Mary and Joseph must have done to help Jesus prepare for that day…

Mike and I truly enjoy preparing our home for Christmas. Every light strung and ornament hung speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. The God-made-man who changed everything with his arrival didn’t miss us in the process. Though life has pushed us and pulled us from the wonder of Christmas through numerous trials and tribulations, we wouldn’t have it any other way. As I admit to myself that I’m pensive and a bit tentative as I begin this New Year 2017, a welcome bit of warmth nudges away the chill and fills me with hope. In the process, I find that our home isn’t empty after all. Just as our worries and concerns remain, the realities of God’s love for us remain as well. Just as this love was God’s gift to the Magi and to all of the world on that first Epiphany, it is God’s gift to us and to all the world today!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Christmas Remains

They carried to him all those afflicted…
He cured them all.

From Matthew 4:24

When I was a child, my family referred to this day as Little Christmas. January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany and we celebrated the arrival of the Magi at the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Wise astrologers that they were, the Magi 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 was destined for greatness.

Today, our Christmas Tree remains intact because my extended family will visit tomorrow for another holiday gathering. As I check to see if the tree’s needles will last another day, I realize just how reluctant I am to let go of the hope, promise and good cheer of Christmas 2016. Though most of us have returned to our pre-holiday routines, I hold onto as many remnants of Christmas joy as possible. I celebrate Little Christmas with memories of my siblings and me moving the three Wise Men closer and closer to our crèche until January 6 when we orchestrate their arrival. Still, recent losses remind me that some will never return to their pre-holiday lives because life has changed forever for them. I realize that this life will never be the same for any of us after this day, this hour and even this very moment.

Perhaps it’s a blessing that Christmas creeps into our shops and malls a few months early. That Christmas extends to Little Christmas is another happy circumstance. These reminders of Christmas are with us for good reason. When we keep Christmas in mind, thoughts of the birthday we celebrate cannot be far behind. When we remember the hope and promise which that tiny baby brought to this world, we remember God’s presence. God is with us to endure, to survive and to celebrate every moment, even the ones which change our lives forever. Whether these changes come with sorrow or joy, we live them with God at our sides.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everything.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved