Sunday, December 29, 2013

Helping Hand

I've been looking for an occasion to share this great book since I received it 5-6 Chirstmases ago...

   The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, & Joseph   

A less-than-reverent Christmas card 
I’ve seen in recent years
shows a horse, a camel, and a donkey 
lined up from behind.
Each beast of burden 
has a woman seated on top,
and each has a bumper sticker on its rump.
The first one says, 
“Our son is an honors student.”
The second one says, 
“Our son is in medical school.”
The third one says, 
“Our son is God.”
“Well!” sneers one of the women. 
“If it isn’t Mary and Joseph…”

I suspect that, for most of you as it does for me,
Christmas means a little extra time spent with family.
And whenever we get together,
I marvel to watch my siblings raising their children.
It’s such an incredible responsibility!
(Of course, often as I’m headed back here to Malone
I’m asked, “Do you want to take them with you?”
Celibacy isn’t all sacrifice…)

While I was pastor in Old Forge,
a young family there
gave me a wonderful children’s book one Christmas
called, Father and Son: A Nativity Story,
by British author Geraldine McCaughrean.
The flap of the dust jacket says,
            “Every day new parents are awed by the miracle of life,
            and by the responsibility that comes with being entrusted
            with a tiny perfect person to protect and teach. 
            But what if you had a baby
            whose coming was even more of a miracle?”

And so, on this feast of the Holy Family,
I want to share this story with you...

After the star had set, after the angels had roosted,
after the shepherds had hurried back to their sheep,
there was one person still awake in the dark stable.

Joseph sat watching the baby asleep in the manger of straw.

“Mine, but not mine,” he whispered. 
“How am I supposed to stand in for your real Father? 
How is a simple man like me to bring up the Son of God?

“Not a good start. 
I could not even find him a proper place to be born,
a proper bed to sleep in—
he who has cradled us all in his hands since the Start of Time.

“What lullabies should I sing to someone
who taught the angels to dance
and peppered the sky with songbirds?

“How can I teach him his words and letters:
he who strung the alphabet together,
he who whispered dreams into a million, million ears,
in a thousand different languages?

“The very thought of it leaves me speechless.

“How can I teach him the Scriptures? 
It will be like reading him a book he wrote himself!

“What stories can I tell him? 
He wrote the whole history of the world.

“What jokes? 
He knows them all.

“Didn’t he invent the hilarious hippopotamus
and make the rivers gurgle with laughter?

“Didn’t he form the first face, wink, and make it smile?

“Someone tell me: how do I protect a child
whose arm brandished the first bolt of lightening,
who lobbed the first thunderclap,
who wears sunlight for armor, and a helmet of stars?

“And yet…and yet…somehow
my heart quakes for you, child, small as you are.

“How shall I teach you Right from Wrong,
when it was YOU who drew up the rules,
YOU who parted Good from Bad?


“When I get angry and lose my temper, who will be to blame? 
Always me, I suppose.

“How do I feed and clothe someone
who seeded the oceans with fish and hung fruit in the trees? 
Who shod the camels and crowned the deer?

“It’s bread and fish from now on, son,
and clothes no better than mine.

“What games shall we play, boy, you and I? 
I mean, how can I rough-and-tumble with someone
who pinned the ocean in place with a single, tack-headed moon?

“And how shall I ever astound you, child, as my father did me? 
You are the one who fitted the chicken into the egg
and the oak tree into an acorn!

“How can I put a roof over your head,
knowing it was you who glass-roofed the world
and thatched the sky with clouds,
and stitched the snow with threads of melting silver?

“I am a carpenter, child. 
By rights, you should learn my trade. 
But how can I teach you to plane a door,
knowing it was you who planed the plains,
who carved the valleys and hewed the hills,
the wind in your one hand and rain in the other?


“What presents can I offer you
who has already given me everything?
This wife.
This night.
This happiness.
This son.

“What shall I pass down to you, little one,
apart from a world of Love? 
Not as much as the color of my eyes. 
Not even my name.

“And yet…I’ve been thinking, child…

“My hands are strong, God knows.
And everyone needs an extra pair of hands
from time to time.

“So that’s what I’ll give you, my son.
That’s what I’ll be, God willing.
A helping hand.”

So, long after the star had set, after the angels had roosted,
after the shepherds had hurried back to their sheep,
there was one person still awake in the dark stable,
watching over a sleeping child…

…while his God was watching over him.

Whether it’s parents raising young children,
grown children caring for elderly parents,
schoolmates, coworkers, neighbors,
or even fellow parishioners looking out for each other,
being a family, as St. Paul tells the Colossians,
is about compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience,
bearing with and forgiving one another,
and over all these things putting on love.
It’s about being a helping hand—God’s helping hand.
For in that tiny child of Bethlehem,
the Son of God did not only come
to dwell with Mary and Joseph;
the Son of God has come to—and continues to—
dwell with all of us,
to make of us his brothers and sisters,
to form us as the one holy family of God.

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