I hope that my pastor will forgive me for talking very specifically about his Christmas Homily. It was the only thing that kept me sane yesterday.
Father's homily was a study in the unexpected gift of the Christ Child. He first spoke about the experience of wanting something specific at Christmas only to discover that you got another set of pajamas from your Aunt Ruth, instead of the BB gun that you wanted. Then, he likened it to the shepherds, who were expecting a King and who instead got a little baby lying in a manger. But, instead of pouting about the change in plans, they were joyful (this is highly condensed and was SO much better at Mass). Father went on to say that when God takes our plans and turns them upside down, that's the time to be most thankful, because it is a gift from God.
Yesterday was an exercise in putting those thoughts into practice.
Christmas is not my favorite day. Christmas is a day full of unspoken and spoken expectations that sometimes are not met.
OK...almost never met.
It isn't so much the present that you didn't get, but the reactions of people to the presents that you risked life and limb to get, or the discord within the tired adult siblings in your life, or illness, or the fight that your parents had on Christmas Morning, or a that flat tire you had on the way to church, or the fight that you had with the older relative, or the battle of wits that your smart relative decided to have with an un-armed person...I could go on and on.
At Christmas, more so than at any other time of year, I am stretched to the breaking point. Work is busy, home is busy, church is busy and all of these projects depend on other people doing what you expect them to do; what you HOPE they will do. Human beings make mistakes. They are imperfect and sometimes, they let you down. It's a sad fact of humanity that we don't always get everything done exactly perfectly. It has plagued me for many, many Christmases. No matter how hard I try for "the perfect Christmas", something always gets in my way and makes it fall short.
The real challenge of Christmas is to recognize the gifts that God gives you and to receive them joyfully. I didn't do such a good job yesterday morning, but I got better as the day progressed and I began to see that all of these things were plans turned inside out and upside down. I realized with a shock at about 5 pm (for too late in the day), that God had been showering us with gifts all day long.
In all the things that happened yesterday to me and to my family, I could see the hand of God shaping and offering His gifts to me and my family:
To the flat tire: an opportunity to take stock of the friends God put in our lives and the knowledge that they want to get to church more often because they are really hungry for God.
To the fighting couple: an opportunity to clear the air and realize that neither one of them was selfish or lazy, just sad for the lost time in raising their kids and the imperfections that marred their day. Oh yes, and the knowledge that they love one another in spite of the imperfections and they would be lost without one another.
To the discordant siblings: an opportunity to offer up the sharp criticisms and realize that you need to mindful of other's struggles in life.
To the one who was ill: a chance to slow down, for once, put your feet up and rest.
To the one didn't get the reaction they were hoping for from the present they worked so hard to get: a realization the Christmas is not about the things you get, but the love that is given to us from God (in sending His Son to us), and from your heart to that of the recipient. It truly IS the thought that counts.
To the one who was disappointed in the gift they got: A realization that someone cared enough to try to please them.
To the one who got in a fight with an older relative (and the older relative, too): an opportunity to take stock of your life and where it's headed. And the chance to change the course before it ends badly.
To the one who got mad about the philosophical discussion: The gift of patience and an appreciation of the gift God gave you of intelligence and a good education (and a really smart Dad).
It was a hectic day, filled with trials and troubles and wonderfully blessed by God. You just have to look for the blessings.
I am reminded of a story about Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa took all inconveniences as blessings. Once, she was stranded in an airport due to inclement weather and was going to miss her speaking engagement. But, instead of trying to move heaven and earth to get there anyway, she simply said, "What a blessing! God has given us time to pray!"
Even the most imperfect Christmas is full of blessings. You just have to see them as blessings.
Merry Christmas! God bless us, every one!