Hello SMC readers! This week, I offer you one of SMC’s greatest hits from years gone by! Which is a fancy way of saying that this is a re-run. I didn’t have the opportunity to write a new article this week because I am gone on retreat in a Benedictine monastery in Indiana (Saint Meinrad’s Archabbey). I can’t recommend this monastic retreat business highly enough! I am remembering you, the SMC community of readers and wayfarers in my prayer. See you next week! And thanks for taking the time to read! Hopefully there will be a few new surprises in the upcoming year.
It’s happened before. A kind and helpful Sport’s Authority salesperson assuring me that the item in the oversized cardboard box is almost completely assembled already. Last time I heard a pledge like that, light was beginning to glow on the horizon on Christmas morning before Lisa and I had the foosball table (i.e. table-top soccer game) assembled. My long-winter’s nap that year consisted of a two hour siesta before my first grade son, John Harry, shook me awake at 6:30. “Santa’s been here! Wake up!”
“Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me,” I thought to myself. Before I slid my credit card even one centimeter, I made Jason, the Sport’s Authority salesman, cross his heart, hope to die, stick a needle in his eye, and pinky swear me that, indeed, our brand new ping-pong table, unlike our six-year-old foosball table, was almost completely pre-assembled within the box. Jason took the pledge, so I took the plunge. I slid the card, signed the form, and arranged for a time when I could pick up the behemoth.
The first sign that the Ghost of Christmas Past was destined to revisit, occurred when my pick-up-truck-driving friend, Mike, and I carried the 150 pound, five foot five box down the basement stairs. As we shifted the cardboard sarcophagus this way and that, a tell-tale jangling could be heard, suggesting that hidden within the vault, were bags of nuts, bolts, screws, and washers. Immediately, I imagined impenetrable hieroglyphic instructions, tools strewn about the basement floor, and dark, Christmas morning circles under my eyes. I shook my head the way a child shakes an Etch-a-Sketch to remove an unwanted image from the screen of my imagination. In place of this Christmas nightmare, I replayed the movie of kindly, honest, jovial…loving Jason, the Sports Authority Salesman, assuring me that the thing “was almost completely assembled already.” His remembered words soothed and warmed me like a shot of Bailey’s and hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night.
Having returned from Christmas Eve Mass, we tucked our teen-aged, pre-teen, and second grade sugar-plums snug in their beds. Next, I donned my Christmas Eve apparel (a sweat shirt, jeans, a box cutter, wrench set, screw drivers, and pliers), and descended the basement stairs with Mrs. Claus. By the time we slid the last thingamabob into the final jangerwank, the clock struck 4:00 am.
I tumbled out of bed at 7:00am to the sound of padding feet. I imagined that somewhere on this Earth, Jason, the Sports Authority Salesman, stirred in his sleep, awoken momentarily by the stirring of his conscience. I then imagined that he rolled over, pulled the covers up over his head, and drifted off into deep, sound, sleep to be awoken hours later by the smell of his mother’s egg and cheese casserole. “Merry Christmas Jason, the Sports Authority Salesman wherever you are!”
Through the course of the next sixteen hours I labored alongside my wife observing her with a sense of awe and wonder as we assembled Christmas toys, cleaned house, welcomed guests, engaged in hospitable conversations with my relatives, and played with our children…all on three hours of sleep…all done with a sense of grace and good cheer.
This Sunday, most all Christian denominations celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. An “epiphany” can be described as an “in-breaking” of the divine into our human circumstances. In my religious tradition of Catholicism, the third reading of Epiphany Sunday this year told the story of astrologers who traveled a great distance. They received enough sight to recognize something transcendent in some shabby, ordinary surroundings (Matthew 2: 1-12). To be open to the possibility of an epiphany requires an answer to some pretty challenging questions.
Do you have the courage to believe that Holy Mystery is at work speaking through the circumstances of your own life, trying to reveal signposts pointing the way toward insight and Providence? Epiphany challenges you and me to look for the in-breaking presence of God—not in the extra-ordinary—but to find a newborn presence within the everyday circumstances in which we live. For those who are committed to developing a certain type of eye sight, God’s warm light is constantly flashing through the people and the events of life.
Something so banal (i.e. everyday and ordinary) as a ping pong table can become an altar on which parents’ self-sacrifice is transubstantiated into something holy for an excited child at 7:00 am on a Christmas morning. For those with eyes to see, the desire of a mother to keep the glow of cheerful hospitality alive on three hours sleep manifests the cheerful hospitality of God pulsing through her self-donating love.
Epiphany recognizes the quiet heroism and holiness alive in our ordinary daily relationships. Right here in the middle of the Christmas Season, may you be given eyes to see divine light shining in your holy family and your holy life.
Be sure to give the attached song, “Sunday Candy,” by Chance the Rapper a reflective listen. He and his choir totally capture so eloquently what Epiphany and Incarnation are all about!