Once upon a time, a family has twin boys whose only resemblance to each other are their looks. Opposite in every way, one is an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist. Just to see what would happen, on Christmas day their father loads the pessimist’s room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist’s room he loads with manure. That night the father passes by the pessimist’s room and finds him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly. “Why are you crying?” the father asks.
“Because my friends will be jealous, I’ll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I’ll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken,” answers the pessimist twin. Passing the optimist twin’s room, the father finds him dancing for joy. “What are you so happy about?” he asks. To which his optimist twin replies, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
Now, if you are shocked that I said the word “manure” in a homily in church at mass, I ask you: “Where do you think the Christ Child is born, at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Bethlehem?” Mary gives birth to her son in a stable and lays him in an animal food trough commonly called a manger. There is nothing pretty about the lodging: it is full of hay, dirt, cows, donkeys, sheep and yes, manure. That could be the end of the story with Mary and Joseph’s depression, that the beginnings of the their newborn son are so terrible. Instead, angels sing and proclaim, “Glory to God.” Instead, God tells poor people like the shepherds to be joyful and to proclaim the good news. Instead, Mary ponders all of these things deeply in her heart- that Grace and Truth become flesh. St. John tells us that this newborn Christ is full of Grace and Truth. St. John really means to tell us that “Kindness” and “Unconcealedness” from heaven take on the human condition. To translate better- we find everything about God in Jesus for God’s true nature is Kindness.
If God is True Kindness what is the implication for Christians? And what does that say about the real meaning of Christmas? It is my theory that Divine Kindness leads me to optimism. The word does not mean a sunny outlook or acting like a really nice person. It means “best.” I do what is advantageous for the kingdom, not for myself. I do what is best for you because God is love and I best describe it with works of kindness.
To illustrate: Terry Hannon is a financial advisor living in Wheaton. A very good friend of mine, Terry tells me that this year instead of donating to charities in her clients’ names, she is going to send each of her clients a $100 bill so that they can perform “random acts of kindness,” based on the book and movement of the same name. She sends them a cover letter, the book by Conari Press, and the money instructing them to give it away to someone in need, “if possible, a stranger.” Many of Terry’s clients not only match the gift, they also give gifts of their own. A father laid off of work gets the $100 and a new snow blower. A soldier and his wife with six kids receive the $100 bill after a husband and wife go to Ft. Bragg to search for a needy family. Needless to say, both wives end up in the aisle hugging and crying together. The list of “random acts of kindness” is long: an elderly former woman religious without a pension, an Afghanistan war veteran without legs, a mother of an 18 month year old daughter with a brain disease, etc… Why does Terry Hannon do this? Two reasons: her faith in the newborn Christ and because she knows how to find direction through the muddle of manure. For the last ten to fifteen years of her life she raises her four children who today range from the ages of 24 to 18. She knows what it means to work hard and to instill in her family good Christian values.
How beautiful are the feet of those who announce peace and bring good news to souls that are suffering. God speaks to us in many ways but God really speaks to us through his Son, Jesus the Christ. We can find everything about God in Christ. God does not choose to come to us in a grown person angry about our sins. God chooses to come to us in the presence of a vulnerable little child. In this child resides a kindness beyond belief.
As we approach this Christmas Eucharist, we Christians can dream about every one of us performing random acts of kindness. It is not only a very human deed. It is the essence of Christianity, and the real meaning of Christmas.
Merry Christmas to us all, and a blessed and happy new year!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.