These days, Santa has to keep up with the changing tastes of our children. Many children clamor for something that runs on batteries and something with a nice color screen. A vivid memory I have from when I arrived in United States back in 1984 is of a TV news report that showed people making a mad dash in Toys R Us stores for the Cabbage Patch Kids. (Do you remember?) When I was a kid, I preferred He-Man and Gi-Joe action figures. They didn't speak or run on batteries and so I had to use my own imagination to make my own voice-overs and special sound effects. I remember one Christmas when we were still in Korea, anxiously watching my sister open the gifts that Santa had presented her at the kindergarten she attended. Most of the gifts didn't interest me such as some clothes and a jacket, but one present caught my attention--a bunch of bananas. Don't laugh. We Americans take for granted how cheap bananas are, but back then in Korea, they were really expensive!
Like those ordinary bananas, some gifts are overlooked and taken for granted because they are too ordinary for us. Take for example, our mothers. Moms are truly a gift from our Heavenly Father; yet sometimes overlook them because we always expect them to be there for us. It's when we are deprived of their love, that we feel a great loss.
Last week, I had the privilege to join with a couple of other priests to hear the confessions of about forty inmates at the local jail. Each time after an inmate finished listing his sins, I would ask him, "Have you considered how you are important to your mother, how she always worries about you and how she prays for you?" Without fail, the inmate would tear up because he missed his mom's cooking, her fussing over him, and her love. One thing missing in the jail cells is genuine and unconditional love, and the inmates feel the thirst and hunger for that love. I would then ask the inmate, "Have you considered how you are important to your Heavenly Mother, the Blessed Mother? Do you know that she always worries about you, prays for you, and stays so close to you because you are so dear to her?" Each one replied, "No, I never considered that." I then added, "Then have you considered how her Son, Jesus, worries about you, intercedes for you, because you are so dear to Him?" And some replied, "Oh yes. I tell myself that I shouldn't be alive because of what I got myself into so many times. Yet I knew God was protecting me, saving me from myself."
Why did Heavenly Father send His Son as a tiny, helpless baby to a young married couple who were unable to find a suitable place to give birth? In many ways, what Blessed Mother and St. Joseph went through that night in Bethlehem is what we sometimes go through in life. Circumstances and events in our life are sometimes like that cold night in the unfamiliar Bethlehem town, where we find no one welcoming and things not going the way we expect. Yet the angel announces to us like he did to the shepherds, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
How many of us have had the fear of the unknown grip us like the darkness shrouding the Magis and the shepherds? Prophet Isaiah announces to us in the First Reading, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing." This Christ Child in the manger invites us with a disarming smile of an infant child. Are we the ones who have not been to church much, who do not pray much, or rely on God much? The Christ Child says to us that he cares about us, that he loves us, and that he hopes that we invite him into our hearts. This little child says to us that his love and salvation are available for everyone. This little child calls us to praise him and to make our heart as pure as that of a newborn child so that we may enter the Kingdom of God.
On this seemingly ordinary day, when we can so easily overlook and take for granted the hidden gift from Heavenly Father, the little Christ Child reminds us through St. Paul:
"Beloved: The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good."