This photo was taken unbeknownst to me by my husband as I napped next to my favorite furry family member and a warm fire. It was taken just a week before Christmas. The stockings weren’t hung, the shopping wasn’t done, the cookies weren’t baked and the cards were half-sent. This was the night I decided to take Christmas back. This was the night I had an Epiphany.
There had been many signs in the last couple days. It was an unseasonably cold day in Florida, the kind of day that most southerners grab their boots and coats before heading to Starbucks for a hot latte. As I drove our youngest to school downtown we saw numerous heaping blanket piles on every street corner. Homeless people, huddled underneath trying to stay warm overnight. I felt sad but continued driving to school.
After a quick trip to the YMCA to work off the holiday party food binge I was on, a bumper sticker on the car in front of me caught my eye. “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.” I pondered that quote for a minute then stopped at Target for more stocking stuffers. I felt inspired but still needed to check things off my list.
That evening as I scrolled through Facebook I smiled and laughed at pictures posted of my friends at holiday parties, quotes about how crazy their day was jumping from event to event and photos of them in a mile-long line at the Apple Store waiting for the latest phone. A photo came up in my Facebook “memories” from 10 years ago of our three kids as they sat on Santa’s lap…one doubting, one smiling and the other crying uncontrollably at this scary man in the red suit. I felt amused but quickly jumped off Facebook to order another gift on Amazon Prime.
The next day we went to 4pm mass because I knew Sunday was too packed with soccer games, parties, Christmas shopping and the dreaded trip to Costco. Things we couldn’t cancel or reschedule. I was proud of the fact that I was able to fit in an hour for church. I made time for God. So what’s the big deal?
That afternoon was rushed. I yelled at my 15 year-old for complaining we cut his day short with his friends, then realized I told him we had nothing going on that day. I hurried my 12 year-old off X-Box because he wasn’t dressed and ready to go, but forgot I never told him we were going to 4pm mass. I got snippy with my daughter when she came downstairs in her pajamas at 3:30pm after waking up from a nap, but forgot she wasn’t feeling well that morning. After not getting a response from several phone calls to my husband I sent a rude text message to him, minutes later seeing him on a ladder adjusting the Christmas lights I needed perfectly hung.
Somehow we made it to mass by 4:02pm that day. Sweating and out of breath, the five of us stumbled into the pew just as the priest greeted the congregation. I’ve been Catholic for almost 45 years, so sadly, sometimes when I sit down I know I can easily just go through the motions. I can recite the creed without thinking, I know when to stand up, sit or kneel with my eyes closed, and I can tune out the readings to make a mental list of all the things I have to do. I’m not “present.”
As I juggled all the holiday balls in my head…the list of things yet to buy and to bake, the cleaning that had to be done before guests arrive, and the wrapping, oh the wrapping, I couldn’t even go there, it was TOO overwhelming to think of ALL the things I had to wrap!
The priest began his homily. He told us a story about a 13 year-old boy named Christopher who had terminal cancer. As a mother, stories like this tug at your heartstrings so he had my attention. He frequently visited this young boy and would sit for hours with him talking about life. But each time, a few minutes into their conversation the little boy would ask, “Did you bring Him?” The priest would reply, “Yes, I have Him.” And before they went on the priest would give the boy the Eucharist. He was dying, yet he always made it his priority to put God first.
At the end of the story the priest was visibly upset, tears running down his face as he explained how his friend Christopher was now an angel. When he found his composure his last words to us that Saturday afternoon were, make time for Him. Especially during this Advent season God wants us to put him at the center of our lives. He isn’t some big, unreachable thing we can’t see or touch, he is a person, just like you and me and he wants to be invited into our life.
And at that moment I had an Epiphany. I remembered Christmas is not about the presents, it’s about His presence. It doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic or not, the symbol of God as an all-loving person who doesn’t judge, opens his heart to everyone and always turns the other cheek can apply to us all. He is basically just a good person. We are all capable of being good people, if we just remember to be more like Him.
Maybe Christmas is about believing that we are here not for ourselves, but for something else. Something so much bigger.
So Merry Christmas. May your days be full of peace, love and happiness and may you remember to be present in His presence.