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Photo: Felix Carroll

A Sign

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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.

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Chriss - Dec 21, 2006

Joley, Thank you for sharing your story. It is true that this Christmas is different than any other. Our Divine Mercy Cenacle has been together for six months now and we recently had our first Christmas gathering. The evening was filled with song, prayer and ended with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in our beautifully decorated church and then singing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It was absolutely wonderful! It was the best gift ever. That evening has already made my Christmas to be all I could ever ask for. The Cenacle has truly changed each of our lives. Every day we learn so much more of God's unfathomable Divine Mercy. We are learning to share it with others. He has entered our hearts in such a way that has changed us. The meaning of Christmas is so much more alive. Our Good Lord is such a Merciful God.

Anna Mae - Dec 20, 2006

God Bless you Joley in all the work you do for the Lord. Your countenance in the photo is angelic and radiates much joy and inner beauty. You have had your share of suffering and tragedy. We cannot truly appreciate God's merciful gift to us without having experienced the Cross. This is the joy on the other side of suffering.

Pauline December 20, 2006 - Dec 20, 2006

Joley, thank you so much for your sharing this story. We should become aware that Christmas is God's gift to us. Holidays ought to be the happiest time for each family. Perhaps we axpect too much from a holiday. Help me [us] to remember Lord, that on the first Christmas Your Mother, Mary was happy just to be able to find a stable, a dry place where she could give you birth, her child and be with her husband, Joseph. Help me [us] appreciate the thoughtfulness in the cards and gifts I we] give and receive. Not be concerned about what I [we] think would have been better. Help me [us] be greatful for the friendship and love of thoes I am with and not be concerned about who failed to call or write. Help me [us] focus on the Spritual meaning in this Special Day and not to be concerned with the material things I lack. Help all of us keep You in this Christmas Holiday. With You at our side, we can accept what is as we reach out to celebrate the beauty of this day together.

Chris K. - Dec 19, 2006

Thank you Joley, for reminding us of the true spirit and meaning of CHRISTmas.

It has been very discouraging over the years observing the transformation of CHRISTmas into a kaotic frenzy of financial and social stress, Though I do have faith that eventually the hearts of mankind will surrender to that which is the highest expression of our existance, to give of ones self unselfishly expectecting nothing in return.

Let the lessons that Christ brought be our guiding light this holiday and every day after.

Steve - Dec 19, 2006

I truly believe that Christ is waiting in every moment to be born in the manger of our heart. Our world is that desert. Our Father's gift of Life is the herlding star. To me, there is no greater realization than to discover the treasure buried inside ourselves and there is no greater gift to give than of ourselves in trust and charity to the moment. Thank you for reminding us of that. Merry Christmas to you! Celebrate Life!

Roni - Dec 19, 2006

It is the day after my birthday. It is time to count the gifts that Jesus in His Divine Mercy has given.
Our EADM prayer cenacle was blessed to have our induction ceremony...Our prayer center is blessed to have land to build on. My family is still in touch with each other and inner healing always takes place. Our circle of friends have conversions every day... And, in reading the Divine Mercy Study Guide, I discovered a different novena: praying "O Blood and Water which gushes forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I TRUST IN YOU." 33 times.

Thank you Lord for revealing this to me at this moment.

Ed Weber - Dec 19, 2006

Joley, since I started working in a nursing home caring for those little ones that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 (those sick, elderly, terminally ill, those with dementia and often lonely) I have been made so aware of their need, not of physical gifts, but of our hands and presence personally conveying the merciful love of Jesus coming from His dwelling in our hearts to touch them where they most need to experience His presence. Take some time this christmas to bring the presence of the merciful baby Jesus to someone by going yourself and sitting for a few hours with them. Praying the chaplet of Divine mercy by the bedside of a terminally ill person has the promise of so much fruit to be borne in their lives. The riches of God's Mercy are never ending.Thank you for sharing your story. For so many of us older folks we have the opportunity to do the same.

Denise & Thomas Moyer - Dec 19, 2006

"Praise and Thanksgiving be to God for sending to us His Son, Jesus Christ, the TRUE GIFT of LOVE."

Luci - Dec 18, 2006

This is the true spirit of Christmas, Praise God! I wish everyone would understand the true meaning of Christmas just as Joley did. It would make for a much better world.

Kay - Dec 18, 2006

This year started off with a dear friend's 20 yr old son committing suicide, my mother breaking a hip and ending in a nursing home, several people with serious illness and the death of our school custodian, a dear and faithful witness to Christ. How can tinsel and lights comfort us in these moments? Only the hope which shines forth from the True Light can bring healing, comfort, and strength to go on. It sounds like Joley has discovered this without having to undergo a tragedy first. Jesus is born; glorify Him!

Bryan Thatcher - Dec 18, 2006

It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that you realize that you are a student in the spirituality of Divine Mercy. There is a saying that is very appropriate; "when the student is ready, the teacher can teach." God bless, and may your open heart allow you to soak up the rays of the Son!

Michael - Dec 18, 2006

Joley, reflections on the true meaning of Christmas touched my heart. How warming and inspiring to read her story. We in the (materialistic) Western world forget what the true meaning of Christmas. We need to rediscover Christmas which really is the infant Jesus.