Anticipating Christ’s birth: A few lessons for us

When my oldest son, Joseph, was a toddler, we visited my in-laws for Christmas. One day he walked up to his grandmother, who was sitting at the kitchen table, and barked, “Give me a beer.” Grandma Sprosty laughed and said, “Are you 21? Show me your ID.”

Joseph paused, turned around and walked into another room. Soon he was heard repeatedly singing “Happy Birthday” before bellying up to the kitchen table a second time. I believe he was rewarded with a root beer.

My wife and I share this memory of our son’s childhood every now and then. Not only does it reflect on Joseph’s keen wit for dealing with a challenge, it offers a cherished memory of Grandma Sprosty, who has long since passed.

This story also provides a few lessons for us as we wait in joyful hope to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, at Christmas. These lessons include anticipation, reflection and gratitude.

Anticipation: One of the challenges children struggle with this time of year (as well as many adults) is patience. Once the first candle on the Advent wreath is lit or the first Christmas song echoes from the radio, the countdown begins. The buildup can sometimes become unbearable for children as they wait for Christmas cookies to be baked, for the tree to be decorated and for gifts to be opened.

No matter what we do, there is no special trick (like singing multiple “happy birthdays”) to speed things up. The real solution is to embrace the anticipation. In the Nativity story, we hear about Mary, who learns from the angel Gabriel that she will bear a son. “The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God,” the angel tells Mary (Lk 1:35).

Rather than hurry home in panic, Mary sets off to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the town of Judah, where she stays for three months.

Mary’s example of trust in the Lord and basking in the joy of anticipation for the great miracle that was to come is one we should model. When impatience sets in, turn to Mary. Offer a Hail Mary and give thanks for her role in our salvation.

Reflection: This blessed season of Christmas comes not only with joy, but sadness and pain for many of us. Memories of Christmases past, with lost loved ones or those separated from us for various reasons, can make what should be festive a time of grief.

One example of addressing, if not overcoming, the grief we experience is to embrace those memories. Remember loved ones by lighting a candle for them. Dedicate a Christmas ornament, or perhaps make one for that loved one, as a way to reflect on the joy once shared  — and, God willing, the joy to come in eternity.

Gratitude: I am grateful to have three children who have given me and my wife many precious memories. While it is true that memories can include painful ones, during this Christmas season it’s a special gift to ourselves to focus on the pleasant ones.

Give thanks to God for the gift of life, for good health and for those around us who shower us with their presence and their prayers, even unbeknownst to us. A grateful heart is a spiritual gift. Make it your very own Christmas gift this year and offer up these words of praise from Psalms: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his mercy endures forever.”

A blessed Christmas to all of our Compass readers.