Wednesday, December 24, 2008


LUKE 2: 1-14

Each Christmas Eve, Santa would stack my presents next to my big sister Maureen’s. One of my early memories of Christmas morning was coming into the room in our Bronx apartment where the tree and presents were stacked, and seeing my stack higher than Maureen’s. I said, “Look Maureen, Santa brought me more presents than you!” This pleased me. Maureen said nothing. I have since learned that this is a bad sign of things to come.

Just as we sat down on the floor to open the presents, Maureen said, “Oh Terry, would you please go to the desk and get the scissors, to cut the ribbons?” Being obedient to my bossy sister, I got up and went to get the scissors. When I came back to the presents, I saw that my stack had gotten shorter by a few presents. “Where are my presents?” I whined. Maureen looked at me and said, “Oh, the Christmas Angel swooped down and took some gifts away.”

“The Christmas Angel,” I exclaimed. “I never heard of a Christmas Angel.” “Oh yes,” Maureen explained. “The Christmas Angel comes to take away some of Santa’s gifts from little boys who have been bad the past year.” Oops, I had been a bit less than perfect this past year. Maureen was always after me for not putting up my toys in our bedroom after playing with them. This was her pet peeve. “Since I tripped three times over your toys this year,” she recounted, “The Angel took away three presents.” My parents were in the kitchen doing something, plus I was afraid that if I ran to them to help me, the Angel would swoop down and take more presents.

“I want my presents,” I moaned. “Well, first of all they are gifts,” said Maureen. She was my first theologian, and I felt a lesson coming on. “Gifts don’t belong to you. They are gifts,” she added. “You don’t earn them anyway. Gifts never are ‘YOUR gifts’” she emphasized. Then she went into high gear. “Do you think that Jesus is YOUR Jesus, as if you had some right to him being born into this world?” she questioned. “He is a gift, and you did not earn his coming. Jesus is not your property any more than these gifts are.” My small mind was trying to keep up with Maureen.

“Santa brought you these gifts because he loves you. The Christmas Angel did not steal your property. The Angel took gifts away to teach you something,” she said, pointedly. “What does the Angel want to teach me?” I asked meekly. Maureen answered, “That when you are bad, selfish, and not caring about others, you can lose the enjoyment of gifts. Your gifts are around somewhere, but if you are bad, you lose the enjoyment of the gifts.”

Then the light went on for me. It was a graced moment. I said, “So Jesus is a gift still, but if I am not so nice, I can lose the enjoyment of him?” “That’s right,” Maureen smiled. Then she hugged me and said, “Jesus always loves you. His love is always here, but you lose the enjoyment of it if you are selfish and only think of yourself.” Years later I came to understand this Jesus as “Unconditional Love.”

“Now,” Maureen commanded me gently, “close your eyes and thank Jesus for coming into this world, and tell him you will try and be good this coming year by obeying your big sister.” Dutifully I closed my eyes and said a thank you prayer and made a promise to be good. I even promised to obey my sister Maureen. “Open your eyes now,” Maureen lilted. I opened my eyes. My stack of presents had grown taller again. “See,” Maureen pointed at the stack. “The Christmas Angel brought back the gifts.” That Christmas day, I enjoyed the love of three people: Santa, Jesus, and my big sister Maureen. I was very good that day! As the years went on, I never did see that Christmas Angel. I did learn to keep a close eye on my sly, but loving big sister Maureen, the teacher of memorable lessons.

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