Photo: Felix Carroll
By Joley Billa (Dec 18, 2006)
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger' " (Lk 2:8-12).
I have been feeling a great excitement these last few weeks. Joy keeps bursting out of my heart, and there's a certain shivering inside my spirit. "JESUS is coming!!!" I say to myself over and over. Just like a child I have been filled with joyous emotion and great expectation. I pass by the baby in his crib in the manger, and I feel that lump in my throat as I wipe tears of joy from my eyes. I ask myself, "Where is this feeling coming from?"
It was never like this before. For the past 33 Christmases my husband and I have had a routine. We'd crawl into the attic on the first Saturday we had any spare time — usually right after Thanksgiving — and we'd drag down the many boxes of decorations, lights, and the tree, and we'd take them into the livingroom to do the chore of arranging all these items that remind us the Christmas season is here.
When the children were small, I loved this routine. I would see the excitement in their eyes when the lights were finally untangled and completely spaced and the ornaments were arranged upon the eight-foot blue spruce. The manger was set up as well. But it was the tree — with all those presents — that usually received all the attention. After the children left home, the routine became a chore.
Each year I whined, "Do we have to put up the tree this year? We just take it down again, and think of all that work." But my husband, Bob, would say, "The kids will come over, and they'll want to see it." So up it went; begrudgingly.
Then came the chores of shopping and finding the right present. I always felt overwhelmed by it all. There was also the pressure of forgetting someone who wasn't on the list; the pressure to measure up to the gift being given; and the added financial burden that Christmas presents would place on our meager budget. Jokingly, Bob and I would sing the words to that country song: "If we make it through December, everything's gonna be alright." We'd laugh a nervous laugh knowing it would not be funny when the Visa bill came in the mail.
But this Christmas is different.
This Christmas everything has changed. This Christmas I have been changed. This Christmas I have been a student in the school of St. Faustina's spirituality of The Divine Mercy. This Christmas I have begun to feel mercy. This Christmas I have begun to give mercy, and this Christmas MERCY is coming to my home.
There are no presents under the tree, but the tree is there shining and bright. The ornaments are the same, the tree is the same, but I am different.
This year, every so often, Bob climbed off the ladder and held me in his arms as I allowed myself the gift of shedding those holy, cleansing tears of great joy.
Like the shepherds, I wanted to shout that the Savior of the world is coming, and He is bringing me gifts. The gift of merciful love, the gift of reconciliation, the gift of salvation, the gift of peace, the gift of hope, and the gift of Church.
Don't worry. Bob and I will get a few presents this year for our children and friends, but the greatest gifts I am giving this year are my prayers, my time, and my forgiveness.
And as the days count down to that glorious morn, when others are heading to the tree to see what Santa has brought, this year you will find Bob and me kneeling beneath that merciful God, that tender compassionate Savior, that Holy Baby wrapped up in swaddling clothes like the true Christmas gift that He is.
Merry Christmas family of God, and Peace to all peoples on earth!
Joley Billa is a lay evangelist for Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy.