There are signs of hope all around us

This holiday season reminds us of who we are and what life is supposed to be about.

JP Danko | Stocksy United

In spite of all the fun elements in the Christmas story like shepherds, wise men, angels, and donkeys, the attention is always focused on a single, tiny baby. This gaze at a child seems to be human nature and rings true with my own experience: all eyes are immediately glued on a baby the instant one appears in a room. Adult conversation ceases, as we stare, nuzzle, and gush with adoration. In those moments, the universe itself seems to revolve around that child.

Babies, they say, are a gift from God. This isn’t to say that they don’t also drive us crazy. I remember long nights of driving babies around in the car praying they’d fall asleep, having babies throw food in my face, and having babies destroy diapers in such a thorough manner that I actually wondered if we needed to see the doctor.

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It can also be easy to take children for granted. In fact, it’s easy to take anything in life for granted. What is at first so wonderful, like a snuggly baby, can transform into a cause for great patience. A new career that is initially exciting and challenging can become a chore. New cars lose their scent, roses drop their petals, romance settles into an overly-comfortable marriage with little-to-no spark. Faith in God can lose its luster and become the mere practice of dragging the kids to church on Sundays or not going at all. With a wave of the hand, it’s all too easy to proclaim that we’re weary of it all.

Whenever I’ve lost the sense of wonder and excitement about life, I rededicate myself to seeing the signs that are already here.

We need a sign to remind us of who we are and what life is supposed to be about. Like Moses and his burning bush, or the recent highway billboard I saw that said, “Well, you did ask for a sign.—God,” it would be helpful if life would reveal more surprises along the way to coax us out of our doldrums. So if you don’t get up each morning and immediately begin #winning, is it okay to ask for a sign that you are on the right path, or that you’ve made the right decision about something, or that you are not forgotten?

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Although we should be careful not to test God—after all, the world doesn’t reveal her magic simply because we demand it—there’s nothing wrong with asking God for signs. But it’s important to remember that sometimes what we’re looking for may already be present. Whenever I’ve lost the sense of wonder and excitement about life, instead of demanding that God break the laws of nature for me with some random, miraculous sign, I rededicate myself to seeing the signs that are already here. Weariness with life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It keeps our eyes downcast and we miss the exact signs that we’re so in need of seeing. To break out of it, look up! During the Christmas season, there are signs all around us that point to joy and hope.

In St. Louis, we have a street nicknamed “Candy Cane Lane” where every house on the street goes full Chevy Chase National Lampoon on their Christmas light decorations. At first glance, it’s a fun but silly tradition. But look closer and the decorations are an outward sign of the joy and spirit of the families inside. Cars line up to drive through and soak in the Christmas spirit, and the neighborhood takes donations for a local charity. So much generosity and childlike happiness reveals how special even a normal suburban street can be.

So in the end it all comes back to a baby.

How about the sign of that evergreen tree—the one that you, if you’re like me, picked up last-minute from the parking lot of a strip mall and shoddily tied to the roof of the car? That tree is kind of a big deal. In the middle of winter, it continues to have green leaves as a sign that the darkness of winter doesn’t last forever and spring will come soon enough. Once inside and decorated, it becomes a focal point for family traditions with handmade ornaments and haphazard strings of popcorn, fake snow, and tinsel. At the very top may be a star, reminding us to look up and see that the stars themselves are twinkling with laughter in the clear, winter sky—pointing the way to a heavenly reality that has somehow intersected with our own. Then there are the stacked presents under the tree, wrapped up and holding delights yet to be revealed, colorful mysteries of generosity.

And next to the presents under or nearby the tree in many homes at this time of year is the nativity scene, Joseph and Mary gathered around the manger. So in the end it all comes back to a baby. Even if this Christmas season finds us weary and needing a sign, this small child grabs our attention and reveals himself to be all the sign we need. In him there is hope, joy, and more love than this world can possibly contain.

Each week, Fr. Michael Rennier reflects on the Sunday Mass readings and pulls out a theme applicable to our daily lives. Today’s reflection is based on the 1st reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent.

 

Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier

Fr. Michael Rennier graduated from Yale Divinity School and lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife and 5 children. He is an ordained Catholic priest through the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal clergymen that was created by Pope St. John Paul II. He’s also a contributing editor at Dappled Things, a journal dedicated to the written and visual arts.

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