All year long, Linda looked for Christ in her daily life, but she did so especially at Christmas. During Mass, she’d say a simple prayer, “Lord, please show yourself to me.”
She knew he was there, but she wanted a special glimpse, one that would dispel the gloom from too much holiday glitz, one that would replace the seasonal sadness with the same kind of pure wonder and joy the shepherds must have felt, one that would reassure her that despite the daily headlines about murder and mayhem, things were going to be all right because … the Prince of Peace was coming.
It’s easy to be disappointed at Christmas. Instead of holiday cheer, there’s a lot of holiday gloom that comes when your center of attention shifts from Christ to spending and partying, not to mention the regular assaults on Christianity that occur when a politically correct teacher wants to secularize “Silent Night” by changing the words or the ACLU files a lawsuit against a small town over a nativity scene, and a national organization of unbelievers sponsors billboards attacking the existence of God.
You often find yourself looking to the skies, waiting and watching and wondering the same way people of good will watched and waited two millennia ago for a Savior and a King who would make things right that had gone so terribly wrong.
At a time of year that belongs to Christ, so many people try to push him out of the picture. When I went to the store to buy Christmas cards, there were dozens on sale, but I could find only one box with Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In the modern world, there’s clearly no room for them at the inn.
But the more the world tries to push Christ out of Christmas, the more our hearts long to see him. And there’s some wonderful news that’s 2000 years old—“The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Yes, The Light shines despite consumerism, commercialism and hostility.
Linda went through the usual holiday motions. She bought gifts for her grandchildren at the dollar store; she decorated her home; she wrote Christmas cards; but when she said her Rosary at night, lying in the darkness, she asked Jesus to please reveal himself to her in some small way.
I often wonder whether I would have recognized Jesus lying in the manger on that first Christmas night—or even now. It’s a gift to see him in others, a special gift.
I’m reminded of the story of St. Martin of Tours, who as a young soldier stationed in Gaul in the Fourth Century rode into Amiens on a cold winter day and saw a beggar, shivering at the gate and asking for alms.
Everyone ignored him, except Martin. Moved to pity, he unsheathed his sword and cut his cloak in half and gave it to the man. That night in a dream, he saw Jesus, surrounded by angels, and he was wearing the cloak that Martin had given him.
Christ has many faces. Many of them are shunned by the world and many others the world wouldn’t even recognize.
Linda had a St. Martin experience when she visited a small town in northern New Hampshire that seemed protected from all the spiritual afflictions that corrode our society. It was a town where the stores on Main Street played traditional Christmas carols that hadn’t been sanitized or censored, and where people proclaimed the name of Jesus freely without fear of offending someone. They said “Merry Christmas,” instead of “Happy Holidays.”
On Sunday morning, the miracle happened when Linda went to Mass at a small church nestled in the mountains. As the gifts were brought to the altar, a little boy with Down Syndrome, no more than seven years old, came forward to carry up the collection basket. It was his proudest moment when the usher handed it to him.
Light seemed to radiate from his smile as he eagerly grasped the basket and followed the others. He was so happy that he was skipping barefoot up the aisle and looking from side to side as if to share his pride with the congregation.
An effusive warmth filled Linda. She was looking for Christ, and here he was in this little boy, performing this simple act with such love. The Kingdom belongs to such as these. Didn’t Jesus say that? In those few moments, Linda looked at the world as Jesus does, with compassion and love. A little boy taught her that lesson. Her prayer had been answered.
By Joe Pisani
Joe Pisani has been a writer and editor for 30 years.