Dear Parishioners and Friends,
For the hit Christmas movie “Home Alone,” John Williams wrote a song called “Walking Home” with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. The chorus of the song says, “Somewhere in my memory / Christmas joys all around me / Living in my memory / All of the music, all of the magic / All of the family, home here with me.”
Christmas is indeed a moment full of memories from childhood to old age. We remember all those funny, sad, or surprising moments that we recall in old photos or VHS tapes – like the ones I’m sharing here. The first photo is me at about 15 months, sitting in front of a cardboard Santa with a fiberglass beard. Even at that tender age I wondered how Santa could come down the chimney since it was a fake fireplace! Apparently my parents had to leave the back door unlocked so Santa could make his entrance. The second photo is me at four-year-old, sitting on Santa’s lap at AM&A’s, a venerable department store in downtown Buffalo which, like Sage-Allen here in Hartford, is now a thing of memory.
The final photo requires a bit of explanation. Somewhere around 9 or 10 of age, I started to develop my passion for the organ. When I was in sixth grade, I received my first organ – a small table-top Magnus chord organ; the kind that had buttons on the left side to play chords while the melody was played with the right hand. Unfortunately, my curiosity had gotten the better of me and, after a bit of snooping in the basement before Christmas, I discovered the box. So it wasn’t such a big surprise when I saw it on Christmas morning.
The bigger surprise happened when I was 14 and my parents gave me a Hammond organ for Christmas. I had been dropping not-so-subtle hints to them, but never really thought they would spring for such an extravagant gift. But the Saturday before Christmas in 1968, I was in our basement working on a school project (building a model of a Greek amphitheater), and my brother and I heard a bit of commotion from upstairs. He looked out the window and saw a delivery truck parked at the curb and said, “I think they’re delivering an organ.” I replied, “Yeah, sure” and went back to my project. Several minutes later, my mother called down the stairs for me to come up to the living room for a minute. When I walked into the room my father snapped the photo shown here – me with a look of complete astonishment at seeing a beautiful Hammond spinet organ in the corner of the living room! To say the least, my project in the basement was forgotten for several days as I played my heart out on that organ.
When we think of the birth of Jesus in a stable at Bethlehem, I wonder how big of a surprise it was to those who witnessed it. Luke gives us a bit of a hint when he recounts how the shepherds, having been greeted by a host of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest,” made their way to the stable: “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, that made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Lk 2:16-18). Then we are told that “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
I imagine that the real surprise didn’t come until some 30 years later with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. But the big surprise of Christmas is that God would become incarnate in the world. This Emmanuel, God-with-us, had become one of us, and through his teachings and miracles, led from one surprise to another. God really cares about us, and God has never stopped caring about us! All of this is pure, extravagant gift! Are you surprised about this? As people of faith we shouldn’t be, but sometimes it is hard to believe that God would do such a thing.
The ancient hymn, O magnum mysterium, beautifully captures this element of surprise. Part of it reads: “O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger!” To the animals, an even more so, the shepherds, and eventually to the whole world, God’s Incarnation of Jesus is still a great, mysterious surprise to those who choose to believe it.
A Blessed and Merry Christmas, to you all!
May your days be merry and bright, and blessings on your week ahead!
Fr. Tim Shreenan, O.F.M.