Christmas was still a couple of weeks away on this December evening in New Jersey. Those intrepid reporters employed by the Weather Channel were deployed in various stormy locales, warning folks in the Northeast to batten down the hatches, or whatever one does when a snowstorm is imminent. This sort of talk generally inspires two reactions. Those of us of a certain age will roll our eyes and cast a longing look at the southern and western portions of the Weather Channel map of the United States. Those regions always seemed to be shaded in gold or red, and the video footage always shows people in shorts. They probably have never even seen a snow shovel, never mind been forced by sad circumstance to use one.
Others, who cannot imagine ever being of a certain age, have a very different reaction to the ominous talk of multiple inches of snow. They cheer and smile and laugh and ask if they can stay up past their bedtimes because, after all, there surely will be no school the following day.
On this occasion, I know of a 10-year-old boy who watched these reports with a certain degree of skepticism. How do they know what’s going to happen tomorrow? said this lad of those Weather Channel reporters. Only God knows.
So he went upstairs, retrieved his Rosary beads (newly blessed, he noted, by one of the parish priests), got on his knees and prayed for a snowstorm fierce enough to cancel school.
The following morning, a telephone call at 5:15 a.m. informed us that his prayers had been answered. The zealous lad remembered to thank God for his good fortune before joining his sister in a backyard snow drift.
Ah, to be a child again!
We are at the tail end of that time of year when many of us actually do make that magical journey back in time, or at least we do our best to act the part. And why not? The mature Christ exhorted us to have the faith of children, the innocent faith of those who know little of disappointment and disillusion. So why not, in the season of Gospel readings about the Christ Child, go back in time and see the world through the wide and glistening eyes of a child?
Why not reach for Rosary beads? Why not ask God for his help, and remember to thank him for it? Why not revel in the innocence of faith, rather than wallow in the weariness of experience?
During this Christmas season, soon to be a memory, I had occasion to read again the Gospel of St. Luke, my favorite evangelist. I was reminded of stories I had first heard as a child in Catholic school, of this companion of Paul, this erudite physician who wrote the good news in Greek with such deep reverence for the traditions and faith of Judaism.
In the rush of events that we call life, I had forgotten how much I love the way Luke wrote, and the stories he told, stories I first heard as a childthe Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the rich fool and, a personal favorite, the tale of Zacchaeus, patron saint of the veertically challenged.
Rereading Luke, I was reminded of the thrill of hearing those famous words spoken on Christmas Eve: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.... And, of course, the story only gets better.
Luke is why my family went to Mass this Christmas Eve, rather than on Christmas morning. I have nothing against Matthew, by the way. It’s just that those words of Luke bring me back to my childhood, and how I felt on Christmas Eve every year, and how I ought to feel every day about my faith.
Of course, both versions of the Nativity are wonderfulas a relative of mine once said of the Christmas Gospels, You can’t miss with that material.
It is Luke, though, who manages to speak to the child in all of us, the part of us that still is capable of wonder and awe and jubilation. His images, his poetry, are not for those weary of the world: shepherds keeping faithful watch over their flock through the night; an angel of the Lord, telling themtelling all of usBe not afraid!; a newborn placed in a manger because there was no room at the innone of the most famous images in literature. These word pictures widen my eyes still.
Luke, of course, was not writing for children, but for educated Romans who could read Greek. Nevertheless, to hear his words read in church on Christmas Eve is to be reminded of a child born 2,000 years ago and to remember the simple faith we had as children, back when we prayed for miraculous snowfalls on cold school nights and wondered what we would say if an angel of the Lord appeared in our room and told us to fear not.
Christmas, it is said, is for and about children. This is generally taken to be a reference to those toys and goodies under the Christmas tree, and to the mysterious midnight appearance of a jolly bearded stranger who manages, against all logic, to get up and down the chimney without ever getting stuck. Or burned, for that matter.
But the Christmas season would be melancholy indeed if, like cotton candy and sugar-coated cereal, it was designed only for those under the age of 13 or so. Of course, it is hardly that. Those glad tidings are for all of us.
It’s just that it often takes a child to appreciate the message.