Christmas

When Things Don’t Go As Planned

by Sr. Cecilia Cicone, novice

When I was eight years old, all I wanted for Christmas was a scooter. I enjoyed riding my bike around our neighborhood, but all of the other kids would ride on their scooters. They would make sharp turns and do jumps and tricks that were simply impossible on a bicycle. I made it known to my parents and to Santa at the mall that all that I really needed for that year to full of Christmas joy was a brand new scooter. Preferably a blue one, but that was less important.

Christmas morning rolled around and, sure enough, the first present that I opened was that scooter. I remember being flooded with excitement and waiting for the moment when I could bundle up and take it for a test ride in our cul-de-sac. When that moment finally came, I put on my helmet and opened our garage door. I was not prepared for what happened next.

As the door opened, I heard the whirring sound of motors running through our neighborhood. My heart sank when I realized what it was coming from. Almost every child in the neighborhood had received an electric scooter for Christmas. They were practically flying around our neighborhood as I tried in vain to keep up with my new scooter, propelled only by my little eight-year-old leg.

Just moments after I received the very thing that I had wanted most, suddenly it wasn’t enough. My parents attempted to use it as an opportunity to teach me about gratitude and remind me of the importance of physical exercise, but the disappointment that I felt on that Christmas morning still sticks with me all these years later.

When I recall this story, I realize that it contains a lesson I have had to learn over and over again throughout my life. That there are many times when I think if only I had that one thing, if only that one conversation would have gone better, or if only things had gone exactly as I had planned them, then I would be at peace. Then, I would be happy. Then, things would be as they should be.

You see, like most people, I like things to go according to my plan. There’s something about Christmas that seems to bring that attitude out. Maybe it’s all of the memories we have, or the picturesque Christmas movies we’ve seen, but we do our best to make Christmas “perfect” for ourselves and our loved ones. We spend precious time picking out the perfect gifts, we labor tirelessly over the cookies we bake, and we make plans to see Christmas lights and drink hot chocolate. Then everyone will be at peace. Then we will all be happy. Then things will be as they should be.

Then a family argument breaks out before we even open presents, we drop the container of cookies on the way to the car, and someone slips on the ice as we go to look at Christmas lights. And although deep in our hearts we know it’s not true, we can’t help but feel like this Christmas wasn’t as good as it could have been. We may even feel like it’s been ruined.

That’s because Christmas isn’t about things going according to plan. In fact, if things had gone “according to plan,” we may not have had Christmas at all! At Christmas, we celebrate precisely the fact that things did not go according to plan— at least, not according to our plan.

If things had gone according to our plan, maybe Adam and Eve would not have eaten the fruit in the garden so that we wouldn’t need a savior at all. For some of us, we would have hoped that Jesus would come as a powerful king so that we would know his power beyond any doubt. We might even wish that God wouldn’t have needed to come at all, that he would have stayed far off and just snapped his fingers to save us.

Thank God that things don’t go according to our plans!

Because things didn’t go according to our plan, God revealed his deep love for us in ways that we never could have imagined. This is especially true on the cross. Because things went according to his plan, we have learned that he is merciful, that absolutely nothing can separate us from his love. We know we don’t need to fear him because he came to us as a tiny infant. Things didn’t go as we might have expected, and so we can look into the manger and see just how close God desires to be to us in each moment. Every time something doesn’t go according to our plan, God reveals something to us about his plan of love.

When I was eight years old, I learned the important lesson that neither a scooter, nor any material thing, would be enough to satisfy me. In truth, only God is enough. It is my prayer, for you and for me, that this Christmas will not go according to our plans. Amidst the burnt cookies and the traffic jams, may we praise God that his plan is the one that always prevails.

 

Advent, Christmas, Inspiration

The Big Three

The big three holidays are almost here: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Hooray! we say. As you read this, we will be in the immediate preparation for the first of these, Thanksgiving, praying that we make it through with family and friends, and without too much fuss.

We all recognize these three as the extreme sports among our holidays. We flex our best resolutions before entering into this season. Somehow we will power our way through them.

It might be more worthwhile to spend some time with the little three. Now, by this I mean no disrespect, and I really should call them the humble and holy three: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We do well to ask how they negotiated the original version of what we celebrate.

Let’s begin with Advent, which is the season of preparation for the next two celebrations. We often reduce Advent to the season of shopping rather than of reflection on the coming of the Savior. So, let’s pick up Advent partway through its four-week pattern. The young woman, Mary, had an angel in her living room announcing she was chosen to be mother of the long-awaited Messiah. This certainly trumps all the robo sales calls we have to put up with! How calmly did she acquiesce to this turn of events? We don’t know, but she wholeheartedly consented: “My soul rejoices in God my Savior.”

Mary’s immediate response was to set out on a mission of mercy to visit an older cousin who was also unexpectedly pregnant. We can see how invested Mary now was in God’s plan. When her cousin Elizabeth’s son, John (the Baptist), was born, Mary returned to her own family and to the scrutiny of her fiancé, Joseph. He was taken aback to find her obviously with child, knowing it wasn’t his own. God decided to clarify the situation for Joseph as he had for Mary, through an angel. Joseph wasn’t to be distressed, the angel said. This Child is of God so go ahead as you planned and take Mary as your wife. )Do you notice anything stressful yet?)

Another curveball is thrown into this original Christmas preparation. No quiet sitting at home, no little shopping expeditions, no cozy chats with happy grandparents-to-be. No, the foreign governing body has called for a census. It isn’t a paper form to be mailed in, but a trek to the ancestral home to register in person. So off they go at a very inconvenient time. Mary was literally expecting the Christmas Child. She was seated on a donkey; no Uber rides were available. She had to balance on the swaying beast while feeling her time was close at hand. Joseph, for his part, could only worry and put on a strong face and pray his heart out that everything would be okay.

When they make it to Bethlehem, it is late. There is no room to be rented. Again it falls to Joseph to provide. We picture him in popular films running from house to house begging for some place, any place, to prepare for what is imminent. How inadequate he must feel: such a mission and such a predicament! Why? he could have lamented, but we believe he was more of a man of providence. God would show him how he was to provide for Mary and the Infant. What Joseph found – a poor animal stable – has become the icon of our individual devotion. We ourselves are poor, unworthy, but welcoming abodes of the Son of God. Thank you, Joseph, for this spiritual gift.

It is a holiday, a birth day–was there a party? Yes, there was one large decoration, the star. The locals, friendly and curious, came. The angels again pointed out the event to shepherds who hurried over to see. Later unexpected kings arrived with precious, symbolic gifts. Privacy didn’t exist and soon neither did safety. The three had to flee in the night, making another treacherous journey, this time into Egypt where they would again be strangers trying to fit in.

>All of this was certainly a stressful time for Mary and Joseph. Our religious paintings and cards portray a peaceful, serene image for the season. The will of God seems to have been like a soft comforter over these harsh circumstances. Sweet smiles and calm nerves prevailed. I think not. I see Mary and Joseph as the true patron saints of our modern holiday season. Think of the emotions, the misunderstandings, the anxiety, the exhaustion of all these days. They were in love with God and totally dedicated to His will, but they had to feel each moment as it came. They didn’t know what was coming next. They definitely experienced stress. They were thrown into it; we on our part create most of our stress.

We find that our stress doesn’t come solely from world or church affairs, but from personal interaction with those around us–the near and dear, but even more so from inner action, from our own unpeaceful spirits. Let’s do as Mary and Joseph and put all of our energy and attention on the Child who is the reason, literally, for the season, the Gift, the charm, the center of everything. If our heart is with Him, we will be able to weather this seasonal squall of stress with grace and even with joy. And we will be able to put a new ring on the coming of 2020.

by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP