by Father Mark Goldasich
“Father, looking around the church today reminded me of a homily you once gave. So, I gotta ask: Is that little boy at it again?”
It took me a split second to get what my parishioner Bob was talking about. Here’s the story:
During Advent, a little boy named Danny went to his mother and demanded a new bicycle for Christmas. “Danny, you know we can’t afford that,” said his mother. “Why don’t you write a letter to Jesus and pray for one instead?”
Danny got right to work:
“Dear Jesus, I’ve been a good boy this year and would really appreciate a new bike. Your Friend, Daniel.”
Looking at what he’d written, he figured that Jesus knew he’d really been a brat, so he tore up the note and tried again.
“Dear Jesus, I’ve been an OK boy this year and I want a new bike. Yours truly, Daniel.” Upon reflection, he knew this wasn’t true either, so he wadded it up and went back to the drawing board.
“Dear Jesus,” went the third letter, “I’ve thought about being a good boy, so may I have a new bike? Daniel.”
Finally, Danny thought better of making all of those false claims in the letters and ran to church instead. Once inside, he looked around and, seeing no one, stole a small statue of the Blessed Virgin and ran out. He carefully hid it under his bed, scurried to his desk and wrote: “Jesus, let’s face it: I’ve broken most of the Ten Commandments, tore up my sister’s doll and did lots more bad stuff. I’m desperate. I’ve got your mother Mary. If you ever want to see her again, give me a bike for Christmas. Signed, You know who.” (This version adapted from “Preaching to the Converted” by Richard Leonard, SJ.)
After the Advent decorations went up in church, my parishioner Bob noticed that a statue of the Blessed Virgin was no longer there. He said he missed her. That was what triggered his hoping that the “pilfering youth” was not up to his old tricks. I reassured him that the statue was sitting safely in the sacristy and would return once the Christmas season was over.
I was proud of this parishioner because he’d noticed not only the Advent decorations, but also that something was missing. I appreciated his playful sense of humor, too.
Those two things — awareness and humor — often seem to be in short supply during this short Advent season. Many people are so preoccupied with all the “extras” that have to be done — the shopping, wrapping gifts, cleaning, baking, entertaining, etc. — that they run the risk of missing what is much more important: the flickering light of an Advent candle, a heartfelt note written inside a Christmas card, the smell of a Christmas wreath or cookies fresh out of the oven, the comforting melodies of seasonal songs, the twinkling lights outlining homes, the velvety taste of hot chocolate, the sparkle of anticipation in the eyes of children. These are the things that truly bring peace of heart and meaning.
Also in short supply is any semblance of humor or courtesy. People seem to shove ahead rudely in lines or get pushy with harried salespersons. More shopping carts than usual are carelessly abandoned in parking lots, leaving them to either block precious parking places or to bang into defenseless vehicles. Even minor inconveniences, like a red light or a slow driver, escalate into major issues. We forget the power of a smile, the contagious effect of a hearty laugh, or the good will engendered by words like “please,” “excuse me,” “thank you,” or “Merry Christmas.”
Being countercultural in these days is not so much a matter of waiting until the last minute to put up your Christmas tree or not using “Santa” postage stamps or refusing to play Christmas music until Dec. 24. As Christians, we can stand out powerfully by doing whatever we can to bring companionship where there is loneliness, joy where there is sadness, peace where there is discord, and generosity where there is selfishness.
These small acts may be all that’s needed to turn “blah” and “bah” into “aaaaah.”