No political commentary this week. And no tirade against fundamentalist pastors who show no compassion. Not this week. No lamenting of the present state of affairs in either politics or religion or historical comprehension or theological knowledge. No, none of that this week. Rather, I am taking my lead from Pope Francis this week who said in a recent sermon: “Enough gloom, try joy ahead of Christmas.”
So, instead of writing about some of the darker sides of our human condition, let me share this more joyful post.
December is a beautiful time of the year. The celebrations for Christmas are in full swing. Of course, they have been in that mode since Labor Day in September!
The symbols, some sacred, some quite secular, mingle in the market place: Bethlehem and the North Pole, the Angel Gabriel and Santa Claus, the Heavenly Host and grandma being run over by a reindeer, crèche scenes and chestnuts roasting by an open fire, shepherds in the fields and Christmas trees.
In the Northern Hemisphere, December is also the time when light hurls back the darkness of the winter solstice, an astronomical phenomenon that marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year.
December is also the time when Bill O’Reilly heads into the trenches for his annual battle against the “War on Christmas.” For years now, the Fox News host has been scrambling to save Christmas from a slew of threats – real and unreal – and, I am afraid that 2014 will be no exception.
The shopping malls, the Internet, the television, the radio, the magazines, and the newspapers are all proclaiming what every child already knows to be a fact: Christmas is coming! Many children will ask – if they have not already asked – “Is it Christmas yet”?
Speaking of children, during the Christmas Eve Service one year, a child was heard to innocently warble this very distinctive, but utterly unauthorized version of the Christmas hymn O Come All Ye Faithful. She sang: “Sing choirs of angels . . . sing and expect raisins!”
Expect raisins? No, I don’t think so! The child’s words were unexpected! The child’s meter may have been correct, but her thought certainly missed the mark.
With children, one should be prepared to expect the unexpected. Often, in their innocence, children just “cut to the chase,” say what is so obvious to them, and in the process, often leave us speechless.
Here are just a few of the classic cases in point:
A kindergarten pupil told his teacher that he had found a cat, but it was dead.
“How do you know that the cat was dead?” she asked her pupil.
“Because I pissed in its ear and it didn’t move,” answered the child innocently.
“You did WHAT?” the teacher exclaimed in surprise.
“You know,” explained the boy, “I leaned over and went ‘Pssst!’ and it didn’t move.”
As I said, expect the unexpected from children.
Or how about this one?
After a long day, the house had finally settled down. The children were in bed and the exhausted mother and father sat down to enjoy a few well-earned minutes of relaxation. But no sooner had they started to relax when their seven-year old daughter called from her room: “Daddy, can I have a glass of water?”
Familiar with this delaying tactic, the father called back: “No, it’s time to sleep.”
After a few minutes, the child cried out again: “Daddy, can I please have a glass of water?”
The exasperated father replied: “No, it’s time to sleep! If you ask me again, I’m coming up there to punish you!”
There was a long pause, and then the child called out: “Daddy, when you come up to punish me, would you please bring me a glass of water?”
Again, expect the unexpected from children.
Or this classic?
The little boy was doing his math homework. He said to himself, “Two plus five, that son of a bitch is seven. Three plus six, that son of a bitch is nine.”
His mother heard what he was saying and gasped, “What are you doing?”
The little boy answered, “I’m doing my math homework, Mom.”
“And is this how your teacher taught you to do it?” the mother asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
Infuriated, the mother asked the teacher the next day, “What are you teaching my son in math?”
The teacher replied, “Right now, we are learning addition.”
The mother asked, “And are you also teaching them to say two plus two, that son of a bitch is four?”
After the teacher stopped laughing, she answered, “What I taught them was, two plus two, THE SUM OF WHICH, is four.”
Finally, perhaps you recall this story.
The five year-old boy came home one day and asked his mother: “Mommy, where did I come from?”
Well, mommy was not really ready for this question, but she did the best she could, and told him that she and daddy loved each other very much and how it was out of that love that they made their little son. She then asked him if that answered his question. The five year-old replied: “Yes, I guess so, but, you see, there is this new kid who just moved in up the street and he told me that he came from Chicago. I just wanted to know where I came from.”
Ah, out of the mouths of babes, as one of the Psalms has it! Yes, children say and do the most unexpected things.
On a more serious note, consider what happened to this mother and her child. The mother in this story realized that after all the bills were paid, there would not be much left for her and her four children to use to spend on each other for Christmas presents. Nevertheless, she took her children to a shopping mall and gave them each a twenty dollar bill and told them that was all they had to spend on each other. The children did not seem to care. They all went off thinking of inexpensive and creative ways that they could spend their five dollars per person. The mother gave instructions to meet back in an hour.
The hour went by quickly and soon everyone gathered. Everyone was excited and they were all hiding their bags so that no one could see. The youngest daughter’s bag was the smallest. But the mother did not think too much about it until they all entered the car and the youngest dropped her bag. The bag fell open and candy bars fell out. The youngest daughter turned red, hurriedly picked up the candy bars and shoved them back in her bag.
The mother was furious. She knew her youngest daughter was a little irresponsible and had a sweet tooth, but to go and spend all the Christmas money on herself was unthinkable. The mother stewed on this situation the whole way home. All the children rushed into the house to wrap their presents. The mother followed the youngest daughter into her room, closed the door and started telling her how disappointed she was in her for spending all of her money on candy bars.
The girl started to cry. And then she said, “But I didn’t. These aren’t for me. These are the presents for you and the others.”
Then the mother asked, “But what happened to the rest of the money?”
The little girl explained that she had been shopping and could not find anything that she liked for anyone else. While she was shopping, she saw a tree covered with angels. So she went to see what it was all about and found an angel with the name of a little girl on it who needed a pair of gloves, a coloring book and crayons. She thought about all the things that she and her family had and decided to buy those things for that little girl. When she was finished, all she had left was enough to buy everyone in the family a candy bar.
As Art Linkletter used to be fond of saying, “Kids say the darnedest things!” To put his words another way: Children say and do the most unexpected things.
This mother learned a valuable lesson that day. She had made significant assumptions and unquestionable expectations about her daughter’s maturity and instead, she unexpectedly found her daughter’s actions to be remarkable expressions of caring, of compassion and of love. And, come to think of it, such demonstrations are truly in the spirit of the one whose birthday we celebrate at this “most wonderful time of the year.”