Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Blessed Christmas

     Everywhere its lights and decorations; its Santa's and his reindeer; of course, how can I forget the snowman; and many many plans to a wonderful fantasy world lies in wait. Yes, there is no denying that X’mas is here for many. It’s time to relax, de-stress and fun before getting back to the routines. It’s also time for gifts and plenty of them. It’s also important time for the many resolutions to make. A question keeps getting asked as if it’s just part of X’mas as to what would make this season wonderful and meaningful. And then we move on because we already have a long list of desires to keep. But, something bothers me and I keep hearing this question over and over again. “How do you want your Christmas to be?” And I have realized over the years that there is a big difference between X’mas and Christmas. And I have forever wanted to only celebrate Christmas. And each year I have learnt exactly how to bring merry Christmas to heart. Little by little and now I am looking forward for my 2016 Christmas, just a few days ahead.   
The story of learning about the real meaning of Christmas has been a long one. Well, for a long long time, it has meant to prepare for that midnight mass, to find some special clothes to dazzle, bring out  that wonderful smile to literally stick on my lips no matter how grave the situation is and then it’s all done for the night with the many hugs and kisses to everybody around, known and unknown. The next stop is the amazing five course meal on the 25th, with all the guests coming in and having an awesome time. And then, it’s all over. It’s time for fun and relaxation.
     All that changed a few years ago, when I was all alone at Christmas. I did invite a lot of people and everybody had a place to go but mine. All I could do was call family and friends back home and then wait for the next day to come. This continued even after marriage when my wife and I would have that empty feeling on Christmas day. Empty roads and silence filled our Christmas day. And luckily for us the fantasy world did not appeal. So, we did not make it to the malls or any other place where some fantasy would fill our Christmas day.
     Then, it changed. We had our little baby. We were under pressure now as parents to introduce Christmas to our little girl. That first Christmas of hers, we started to make a plan a month in advance. It was a desperate plan because we could not fail on this one. And for starters, we started making a nativity from scratch and it filled the entire room by the time Christmas arrived. And she would sit in awe in front of it and learn about each tiny blade of grass. Most importantly, through her learning, I recognized the power of a babe in a manger. Every day from Christmas day onward, we would invite a family or friend for either supper or lunch and spend time with our little one. And the ones who would accept to come home were someone who had nobody to go to that day. And we were so glad that we shared that beautiful day with them. And this tradition has carried on and we have been very proud that what started as simple act of making it a lively Christmas for our little ones has turned out to be a tradition of laying out the best for that “Babe in the manger” and sharing that joy with someone else. But, in all that happiness, I still had that question, “Have you done enough this Christmas?” And I could not put my finger on a satisfactory answer until 2015.
     2015 was an amazing year. I am not being sarcastic because I still needed to find a job after almost 2 yrs. But, I had two wonderful kids and an ever loving wife. I also had wonderful wishes from family back home in India. I also loved being the family dad running around doing errands for my kids and family rather than being the grumpy stressed out, ‘leave me alone’ head of the house. I also enjoyed the wonderful mass at St. Jerome where I was part of an amazing choir and my little angelic daughter was in the Christmas pageant playing Angel. And then my Christmas got more amazing than ever because of a homeless man across our street, sitting in the park all alone no matter what the weather was. My Christmas became the most amazing because our family shared our Christmas hot meal with Kevin, a homeless person right across the street, sitting on the bench, cold and frozen, looking at empty roads with nobody driving around. We had seen him since May. I had even gone and sat down with him and tried to find him a shelter to stay. But, he refused and frustrated me. He had a wonderful home and a decent job until one fine day he along with his two brothers was thrown out of the home as it foreclosed. His brothers had found a shelter where they could stay at night, but Kevin refused. And he said the reason was that he did not want to mix with the character of people that came there. He wanted to stay along as pure as he could as long as he could hang on. I was amazed by his single minded dedication to do it day in and day out. And he never wanted anything. He even refused when we put together a set of things that we thought he may need. It hurt me when he refused. He was the homeless and had nothing. And he still had the audacity to refuse. And he always said something that has stuck with me. He always said that he had no doubt he would survive because there were many good, wonderful people around. One day, I was rushing to give him some breakfast. And I saw a truck stop by. There was this mechanic who got down and walked up to Kevin with a couple of cups of Coffee and bagels and some sandwich. He offered all to Kevin. And it was cold that morning. And Kevin smilingly refused everything except a little sandwich. And I wished that mechanic as I was fighting tears in my eyes at the scene that was unfolding. Kevin later told me that many many people stopped by and therefore he was always full. And he had no place to keep. So, he had to refuse. What amazed me was that the only thing he probably needed was a shelter. And interestingly enough, he was refusing that too. He was not tempted with anything. We, as a family were desperate. We made a few calls to see if somebody could help. Everybody had a suggestion and it seemed he could get into a shelter in no time. But, something kept Kevin out with nature. I offered to drive him to the shelter and ensure he was safe and all his concerns had been met. Still, with a very simple smile, he told me that he did not want it right now. I started wondering if I was bothering him and was worried he would leave his safe haven in that park because of me. So, I stopped bothering him until that Christmas day although I kept looking out for him. Days he wasn’t there filled me with fear as well as hope. I feared something bad had happened, yet, I hope he had made up his mind and gone to a shelter. But, then he would return back to his old spot. My 4 yr old angel kept reminding us when we were planning for our Christmas week as to what would happen to Kevin grandpa. She literally helped us plan that we would all go together and offer our first meal to him. And nothing else has made me so fulfilled at Christmas, ever. And blessed, I should add. For I kept thinking about the “Babe in the manger”.
       That year of 2015 helped me learn how fake we have made our world. We know that Christ comes to us in the homeless and the needy. However, we like to satisfy ourselves by doing that little bit and then going ahead with our plans. Kevin’s homelessness and that smile when we went together offering him the meal that Christmas afternoon had taught a lesson that we always knew, but never executed. And from then on to this day, the question has been “What does Christ want of me this Christmas?”
     As I look at my nativity scene to understand what it means, I learn a number of beautiful messages. First of all, He was born in the manger. He was born among the cattle that are used and ignored. He had connected with Genesis where GOD had so lovingly made everything so beautiful and offered it to Adam and Eve. He was born into a family to the most awesome of parents who never doubted GOD’s direction in spite of not understanding the logic of it. And they would do anything to obey HIS command. And then his very first guests were the shepherds, not royalty. And even if the three kings arrived right after birth, they were unique in spite of being royalty. They, even in their royalty, looked out to GOD’s direction and word and followed. And for their obedience, they had the honor to meet their King, born in a manger. It was loud and clear to me. If I was looking for the true meaning of Christmas, I had to find something between the manger and the cross. And with few days to go for Christmas, I am eager to see how I can be blessed again this Christmas like last year. And I wish a beautiful blessed Christmas to all of you.