Did you know the Christmas season ended for us Catholics yesterday with the The Baptism of Our Lord? I was going to get a few more carols strummed on my guitar last evening and ended up looking at photo albums instead. The pictures of our little children playing in this house and yard that we no longer own made me wistful. Our family is experiencing a time of transition and uncertainty.
I have so many emotions lately! That is always true with me, I'm afraid, though I am trying harder not to be led by my feelings and not to let them spill forth from my mouth - that is my perpetual resolution for self-improvement, and I don't need a fresh year to remind me of it.
Aside from emotions I had many small revelations and minor disappointments this past Christmas season. This last Sunday was the feast of the Epiphany commemorating the visit of the Three Wise Men and the revelation of the Messiah to the Gentiles. Epiphany is a great feast and an important one to me. I love the story of the wise men. I am grateful to be a Gentile who has seen the light. But this last feast day found me not altogether happy with every change that has occurred in our family life these past months nor entirely without fear when I try to plan for our future. Where will our own star lead us?
On a more frivolous note, because I am currently employed in retail and often work weekends, I was unable to have friends over or prepare all the usual yeast breads, cakes, and gingerbread camel cookies that I typically do, and I may have even cried about it - mostly because I just really wanted some homemade bread to stuff in my face while spending time with people I love!
On the way home from work that evening I found Rosca de Reyes at Walmart to serve my family for the special occasion, and I played We Three Kings and O Holy Night on my guitar at the dinner table. It was still a celebration, just not the one I hoped to have. Yet, my oldest son Berto made sugar camel cookies all by himself for the family, for me. He also, with Papa's help, made the cookies for Santa this year, and can you imagine how proud these efforts made me? They were very good cookies, too.
Beyond the revelation that my son may enjoy baking like me, I had other important epiphanies this past December.
While preparing one morning to read at church for the fourth Sunday of Advent, I read the Gospel passage where Gabriel visits Zechariah and greets him thus:
Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
Zechariah later responds:
How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.
Then Gabriel replies:
I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.
Never before had I been so fascinated with this passage! Often have I overlooked it in favor of that greater announcement that Gabriel makes to a young woman named Mary, but several things struck me quite powerfully this time. Why, oh why, did Zechariah question the answer to his prayer, no doubt a prayer that he made fervently and doggedly for years in hope of God's reply? Could it be that by the time Gabriel visited Zechariah, Zechariah had long since given up on this prayer, on uttering his pleas, and resigned himself to God's silence or a definitive "no" from the Most High? Why else argue with an angel, God's messenger? For Gabriel specifically said, "your prayer has been heard"?
I don't know the answer, but I find the whole thing very, very interesting, and as someone who has sometimes felt like God's 11th hour baby - haven't we all? - when it comes to prayer life, it bolsters my faith - and also encourages me not to argue with God's messengers when they come at their proper time.
The other small revelation I had came from a conversation I had with my friend Dana. We were speaking about the suffering we see in the world, and she brought up that old saying, "God doesn't give you more than you can handle". Dana added something like this: "But he gives you right up to that limit."
I told her I felt the saying was trite and added, " Sometimes I see people, and I think they have more than they can handle."
Later in the car - again on the way to or from work - I was thinking about my own response and feeling a little appalled by my own cynicism. My speech was not hopeful or encouraging, probably because my family was having a rough few days - mostly my fault, I must say. In the car it occurred to me that, yes, perhaps that old saying did need a bit of editing but it was not to be discarded like stale dessert, for if one just adds a few more words, I think it makes sense to me:
God doesn't give you more than you can handle [with His grace].