by Father Mark Goldasich
Something heard often at gatherings this time of year is: “Hey, remember the time that . . .”
We humans are people who love stories — whether telling them or listening to them. Some of those stories touch our minds; some, our funny bone; and many, our hearts.
Christmas is when we hear one of the greatest stories ever told. It draws people — even those who don’t frequent church — to come, remember and marvel. It’s a story whose impact never fades, as this modern-day tale by Robert Russell, “Jesus Came to Be the Light,” illustrates:
It looked like Stella Thornhope would be alone at Christmas. Her husband had died of cancer a few months before. Now she was snowed in. She decided not to bother with decorating the house.
Late one afternoon, the doorbell rang. On the porch stood a delivery boy holding a box. He asked her to sign for the package. After she did, she asked, “What’s in the box?”
The young man opened it and inside was a little puppy, a golden Labrador Retriever. The delivery boy picked up the squirming pup and said, “This is for you ma’am. He’s six weeks old, completely housebroken.”
“Who sent this?” Stella asked.
The young man set the animal down, handed her an envelope and said, “It’s all explained here, ma’am. The dog was bought last July while its mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a Christmas gift for you.”
He then handed her a book: “How to Care for Your Labrador Retriever.”
Again, Stella asked, “Who sent this puppy?”
As the young man turned to leave, he said, “Your husband, ma’am. Merry Christmas!”
With trembling hands, Stella opened the letter from her husband. He had written it three weeks before he died and left it with the kennel owners to be delivered with the puppy at Christmas. In the letter, her husband encouraged her to be strong and said he was waiting for the day when she would join him. He had sent her this young animal to keep her company until then.
Stella picked up the golden furry ball and held it to her neck. Then she looked out the window at the lights that outlined the neighbor’s house. Suddenly, she felt the most amazing sensation of peace. Her heart felt a wonder greater than her grief and loneliness.
“Little fella,” she said to the dog, “it’s just you and me. But, you know what? There’s a box down in the basement that’s got a little Christmas tree in it and some decorations and some lights that are going to impress you. And there’s a manger scene down there. Let’s go get it.”
Russell then notes that “God has a way of sending signals to remind us that life is stronger than death, and light more powerful than darkness. Open the Book and reach for the joy.” (Adapted from Russell’s Preaching Today audio 195, found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, editors.)
Stella’s husband was an insightful man, knowing the perfect dog for his wife. She was in desperate need of a “retriever,” having lost not only the love of her life, but also her sense of peace and direction for the future. She was mired in the darkness of grief, uninterested in even celebrating Christmas.
But the little retriever changed all that. The puppy connected Stella to her husband and gave her a reason to hope and wonder again, and the means by which to heal.
This Christmas, listen again with an open heart to the story of God’s Retriever, sent to rescue us from the darkness of despair, loneliness and sin. And, as St. John XXIII exhorted us over 50 years ago, let’s reject the “prophets of doom” around us and retrieve — through Jesus — the joy of the Gospel.
Then “go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!”