As the day nears, I wanted to say Merry Christmas by relating some of my recent experiences visiting Christ Child chapters, with Bible verses as an organizing principle . . .
The people sitting in darkness have seen a great light . . . Matthew 4:16
I was so lucky to attend a home Mass with the Summit, New Jersey chapter on December 2, just three days into Advent at member Peggy Kane’s lovely home. Msgr. Donald Guenther, who has served as a spiritual advisor to the Summit chapter, made a simple but crucial point about the difference between Advent and Christmas that has stayed with me all season: at Christmas, the baby Jesus comes to us, but in Advent it is our task to bring ourselves to Jesus. At the darkest time of the year and in the midst of the wild earthly preparations for Christmas, this can present a pretty high degree of difficulty. But we are nearly there. We are like the wise men following the star, preparing our gifts and opening our hearts to the newborn Christ Child, who inspires our work together. The star is high and near in the night.
Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? Ecclesiastes 4:11
This fall gave me some amazing opportunities to meet with chapters in the Midwest and on the east coast, including in Indiana where I was able to spend time both in South Bend and Fort Wayne. The verse from Ecclesiastes is on the money: it takes armies from both chapters to solicit, organize and distribute clothing to the children in their cold communities. In South Bend, I saw a typical fall Wednesday when families come in to clothe their children by touring rooms stocked with various articles of clothing, from shoes to coats, to jeans and sweatshirts—all new and matching. In Fort Wayne, the chapter focuses on coats, hats, scarves and mittens. I was able to help a Mom choose these items for her 6-year-old and see her so excited with her choices. As you can see in the pictures below it takes a lot of Christ Child love from some amazing women to ensure more than 6,000 Indiana children are warm this winter.
And she wrapped him in swaddling clothes . . . Luke 2:7
Our organization started at Christmastime with layettes for babies and this work continues in every chapter today. Honoring and providing for the Christ Child in every child may take a wide variety of forms today—including educational support, parent skill building, and enrichment activities. But it all starts with making sure a new mother has a sense that she is not the only one who cares about her child, which fosters in her a greater sense of dignity and hope for the future. As with Mary swaddling the Christ Child, a layette is just about the first thing the baby and his or her mother will receive after birth. The incredible handcrafts that are a part of so many of our layettes and crib clubs testify to that dignity. And while the knitter or knotter or sewer may not actually wrap a newborn in what she has made, she is wrapping her swaddling touch into the fabric of the layettes themselves. And, increasingly, our layettes are ever developing to meet more modern needs and standards. Nothing too much for a baby!
They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11
If layettes were the first thing that Mary Virginia Merrick fixed upon as gifts to honor the Christ Child, the second was a Christmas toy: the red wagon. Quite a few chapters work to gather and wrap Christmas gifts each year, including everything from clothing and books to toys and gift cards. Boston is one such chapter and I was fortunate to be there on November 30, the first day of Advent and the day the chapter connects up to wrap the gifts they have collected for some 250 children from multiple schools in the greater Boston area. My first three jobs in life were wrapping Christmas gifts, so I was super excited to participate in Boston’s efficient joyous 3-hour wrapping session–and observe Boston President Jane McGuire’s wonderful leadership skills as well as the growth of the chapter since my last visit two years ago. And it was really fun to have junior and senior high school daughters and nieces of members participate in the wrapping–as well as the soup supper that followed at Jane’s home in Newton.
Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king has come to you. Zechariah 9:9
Back to Monsignor Guenther’s point. The Prince of Peace is nearly here–on his own energy. Good smells come from our ovens and beautiful lights shine in our homes. Our people are arriving–or we are enroute to them. It is time to give thanks for this annual opportunity to reconnect with our inspiration in the Christ Child, to savor family and friends and the fruits of the season. I am already reconnecting with family and eating too many goodies. As a firm believer that you can never sing too many Christmas carols (as well as that nothing is ever too much to do for a child), I am definitely beginning to “rejoice greatly”. At the same time, our hearts go out to all those who experience pain, loss and alienation at this time, both children and adults.
Let us pray for and wish comfort and joy to all people of good will this Christmas . . . in the name of the Christ Child.