Be the light you want to see.
Be the hope you wish to be.
Be the inspiration you seek out loud.
Make sure that Jesus and you are proud.
The New Year is a day away. And this is my wish for all of you and your families and friends. But, I have to tell the most beautiful advent story of me and my family before the New Year dawns. And when you have read it all, you would have known why.
When advent began, I wasn’t sure how our family would spend this Christmas. We knew for sure a couple of things. We knew that we would not have any of the extended family with us as we were far away from them. And we also knew that since there was a lot on my wife Priya’s plate at work, she would not be there in entirety with us. Priya and I however vowed that we would make this Christmas the most meaningful one for the kids. How? We left it to GOD and kept our hearts and mind open. This was going to be a special Christmas for our littlest one, Noah. Last time, he was just 4 months old and now a charming 16 month old, walking, running and chattering around.
We began with a plan for our nativity scene. It would be a big one this time and would be behind a gated enclosure, thanks to Noah’s exhuberance. And our start was a small table and 4 cardboard boxes. And it remained that way for the next 15 days. For in between bad things started happening around us that dampened our spirits. First the massacre in Paris followed by the San Bernardino incident that resulted in killing of innocent people, filling communities with fear and hatred had found its way into our day today lives. And all the discussion we were involved in was all about hatred, revenge and killing the bad guys. It was not only all over the news, but also in day today discussions around us. Welcoming baby Jesus was nowhere in anybody’s mind. At least that’s what it seemed. The innocence of Noah and Claire captured my attention. Something special had to happen to change the mood. And it was left to Claire and Noah to provide that for us. The event was Polar express event at Claire’s school, a Christmas event in which we helped organize. That evening when we landed at the event, just to see Claire and Noah ring in the Christmas spirit was a sight to behold. And then the very next week when the two advent miracles happened (read my previous blog: Two advent miracles), I could see that my family and myself were back in Christmas mood. And as block by block our nativity scene took shape, and as Claire took initiative to write personal greeting cards to each and every teacher and classmate and as Noah kept laughing away making pretend cookies and artwork, I was amazed at how beautiful Christmas could be only if all in a family had the will to make it happen. I still had a question though. Will Santa be a part of our Christmas?
And then a very unfortunate event happened as we were moving into the last 10 days of Christmas. Out of nowhere, grief had come to visit the community at St. Jerome, our church in Norwalk. A very significant contributor to numerous activities at St. Jerome passed away suddenly and it affected a number of them deeply as they knew her very closely. I did not know her except that her name was the same as my little daughter, Claire. As I gathered from many people who knew this wonderful person, it so much reflected of the vibrancy that I saw in my little Claire. And as we prayed for the departed soul and peace to her family, I came to know that the funeral mass was set 3 days before Christmas, the same day as our wedding anniversary. And the choir group that I was part of was singing for this mass. The question in front of me was what I would choose. Would I go and join the other members of my choir and sing? And if I did that, how would we commemorate our wedding anniversary? Well, here is what happened. We all went to the 9AM mass and rang in our anniversary. And then I stayed on to join the choir for the funeral mass. And when I finally left church that day at about 11: 20 AM, I had peace within that I had chosen to do what the dear Lord would have liked me to do. Again the healing I experienced at church that morning allowed me to once again focus back on our Christmas.
That night we were almost all set with our nativity crib and as we started working on our Christmas trees, I started to think of Santa again. I had never believed in Santa ever. Why? Because I had always seen that Jesus and nativity were nowhere around Santa that I saw. To me, Christmas was about baby Jesus and his family, the angels, the shepherds, the cattle and the 3 kings, not Santa. But, now I had decided to know about the real Santa, St. Nicholas. Yes, he came from a very rich family. But, the grace and blessings of Jesus made him give everything to others in need. And he became a saint because he gave his life to the love of Jesus renouncing everything else. Knowing this, I decided that Santa did have a place in our nativity too. And so did the Noah’s ark animals. And so our crib had now turned out to be the best we had dished out ever. It lacked only one thing, the poinsettias. We had 4 tiny ones at the window and it was far from perfect.
And then an awesome incident happened. I had committed to helping out to decorate the church on Dec 23rd. So, in spite of me having to do a number of things on Dec 23rd, including actually getting groceries home to cook the next day, I reached the church expecting Sr. Agnes, who was to lead this. And I expected a couple more gentlemen from my men’s ministry whom I knew. I had not known Sr. Agnes personally and it was interesting she had asked Fr. David for 3 men to help her. Anyways, I was excited because it was the first time I had ever helped decorate the church for Christmas. Although I arrived 15 minutes early than I was expected, I quickly realized that Sr. Agnes and a crew of 3 were already at work with the poinsettias. Two of the men were Joe and the third was a girl called Julia, who was daughter of one of the Joe’s. In just a few minutes, I realized what was special about Sr. Agnes. She was on a walker as she was at least in her late 80’s and was very precise. Everything had to be in a certain place, at a certain angle. And she pretty much was the boss of the show. And just as I was settling in, another person came in to help and announced that his name was Joe. Now, we had 3 Joe’s out of 4 men and the joke went around that I had to change my name to Joe. And throughout the next hour or so, as we all set out to do things as directed by Sr. Agnes, I saw a number of people just drop in and help, without invitation. It seemed they just knew that there was lot of help needed at the church and they just dropped by the church to see what they could do. This was such an amazing lesson to me because in my busy little world, where I sincerely hoped that I would do my bit for Jesus, here I was finding out how its actually done. And I kept feeling Jesus on the cross literally wanting me to learn a thing or two that I had never done and feel good all the time. And two awesome things happened next. Sr. Agnes chose me to place baby Jesus in the manger. And as soon as she called out to me to do just that, I felt a great sensation within me. Here I was for almost an entire month wanting to do something extraordinarily special at Christmas and through various ways, here was a moment that I was actually placing baby Jesus in our church crib. And to round it off, when we came to the end of our job and were about to leave, Fr. David asked each one of us to take one each of the extra poinsettias. And I happened to get the biggest one, which incidentally would fit perfectly at the back of our crib overlooking the manger. How much more awesome could this Christmas be?
Well, there was more to come. Christmas eve mass was awesome beyond my imagination. I was in the choir that sang beautifully throughout the mass. And Claire was part of the nativity pageant throughout the mass and was quite an angel. Not to miss out on mommy and Noah, they were all over the church, mommy running behind Noah and once, Noah making it to the altar as the angels sat down beside the Holy family and the shepherds. Well, he had identified that one of those angels was his own sweet sister, Claire, and he wanted to give her a hug, right then and there. Apart from this, I had noticed something at the beginning of the mass that I had not expected. Sr. Agnes was sitting in the front row. She had told us the previous day that she would not be at this mass but would be at the previous one. I was surprised. When we had finished everything and walked back to the car after all the wishing, mom and Claire went back to give back the angel costume as Noah and I settled into the car waiting for them. And in a few minutes, mommy was running to the car asking me to hurry to the other side of the church as she had found Sr. Agnes without a ride. What a wonderful gift. We happily dropped off Sr. Agnes at her residence that night. The story goes that Sr. Agnes had actually sat through our mass as she had no ride to take her back from the previous mass. And she had enjoyed our mass too. And Fr. David was to ride her back home in spite of his tight schedule as he had been unable to find somebody to help her that night. Until, of course that my dearest wife intervened. All these events added to the beauty of our Christmas and each one of our family was soaking in the enormous blessings that we were experiencing, one after another.
We went a step further. We went to mass the next day, the Christmas day as we wanted to thank Jesus abundantly. And when we came back, the first thing we did was to pack our family lunch and walk all the way to the park in front of our condominium where we were greeted by a homeless man we had found, Kevin. We had decided that no matter what we would ensure that on Christmas day, we would share our Christmas with Kevin and we did. And to see him smiling at us and feeling grateful and telling us over and over again that he would make sure that he would have every bit of our meal made me proud of my family as we walked back. And then we had 3 days of family and friends visiting us and filling our lives with enormous love and laughter, not to mention the gifts that they brought in spite of being told not to.
What I have learnt this Christmas is no matter what the situation, ensure the ideals for which Jesus came into this world: Peace, Joy, Equality, Humility, Forgiveness, Brotherhood. And if I and my family were not putting in a real effort to go against the tide of sadness, hatred, fear and indifference, then our Christmas would have been confined to a routine Christmas day beyond which we would have felt a void in our hearts and loneliness . And we would not have known why? And as I wish to continue into the New Year with the same spirits, I wish the same to all of you too and your families. Make the New Year a beautiful one, filled with peace, joy, brotherhood, equality, humility and forgiveness that you give to one and all around you. Be the light you want to see. Be the hope you wish to be. Be the inspiration you seek out loud. Make sure that Jesus and you are proud.