Waiting and watching

By Father Joseph Breighner

A little boy asked his friend: “Do you believe in the devil?” His little friend replied: “I’m not sure. It’s probably like Santa Claus. It’s just Dad!”

In the month of December, the church waits in wonder and awe for the coming of its God. The world waits for the coming of Santa Claus. Both celebrations can be enjoyed as long as we keep God in first place.

Waiting and watching are not easy for us humans. The Jewish people waited for the coming of their Messiah. After their experience in Egypt and wandering in the desert for 40 years, they discovered that living in the Promised Land was no easy thing. As a nation they would be conquered by the Babylonians, then the Persians, Greeks and Romans. As the Gospel says, “In the fullness of time” the Messiah would come. But it would be a different type of Messiah than expected; not a Messiah who would free them with force, but with love. And it would be a Messiah, not for one people, but for all peoples.

We humans would like to control God. It works better when we allow God to control life. Surrendering to mystery is another way to surrender to love. God does indeed write straight with crooked lines.

Allow me to tell a very human story. My niece, whom the family calls Boo, lives in Pennsylvania. About six years ago, her cat Oreo disappeared. Boo searched and searched. She went on the Internet. She advertised. In pain and desperation, she even contacted a “psychic” who told Boo that Oreo had been killed by another animal.

Boo grieved, and finally let go. She adopted other cats, and went on with her life. Some months ago she moved to another house, not far from her first home.

Every day Boo exercises by taking a long walk. Last month she decided to take a different route in her new neighborhood. As she walked past one house on a road they had never taken before, she noticed a black and white cat on someone’s front porch. Boo stopped. She was shocked. She called out, “Oreo!” And the cat came running to her, and rubbed against her legs.

Boo knocked on the door, and a man answered. He explained that he and his wife had seen Oreo wandering around, and adopted the cat. The wife had recently died, and the man didn’t want the cat indoors, so he put Oreo outside. Boo said that it was her cat. She went home to gather assorted pictures, and the man agreed that Oreo was hers. Oreo came home for Christmas.

But let’s take a look at all the “coincidences” that had to happen. Boo had moved. On this particular day she took a new route. Oreo was outside. Had the wife not died, Oreo would have been indoors, unseen. Had the man not been a good man, he might have insisted on keeping the cat. It had been six years. By human standards, this could be called a near miracle.

Now let’s look at the miracle that is Christmas. A virgin, Mary, is with child by the Holy Spirit. A true miracle. Joseph, a just man, protects her. Shepherds, outside in the fields, are visited by angels. The Holy Innocents, in Matthew’s Gospel, die at King Herod’s hands. Joseph and Mary, again in Matthew’s Gospel, are warned by an angel to take another route to be safe. God works beyond the limits of the human mind.

Yes, there is magic in the story of Santa Claus and reindeer flying. But even this story comes from a Christian source of a bishop, St. Nicholas, who visited poor families and left gifts. And our lights and decorations are part of celebrating Christ as the Light of the World.

The miracle of God coming to earth as a human being is beyond the expectation and understanding of most people. And when you and I can give birth to God in our own lives, by the way we live and love, and give and forgive, then truly God has come to his people, and set them free.

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Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.