About three a.m. this morning, I started thinking about Christmas. Specifically I thought about Charlie Strobel, a man who has housed thousands of people who are homeless over the years in a program named after this night called Room in the Inn. He is a friend who always stops by on Christmas morning with gifts and, as of this morning, I hadn’t bought anything for him or a number of other family members. In the Christmas rush of selling Thistle Farms and counting donations to see if we can make another budget balance, I had neglected to buy for some of the folks I loved. So I left my house this morning about 4:45 am and drove to a huge all-night chain store and began to fill my cart like I imagined Santa would. For Charlie, I found a red lumberjack shirt with a black undershirt for warmth. For my great nieces and nephews, I found toys from the movie Frozen and a John Deere tractor. By the time I got to the counter at 6:00 a.m., there was already a small line forming behind me. The cashier took each item out of my cart and commented on how soft it was, or popular, or simply a great choice. I love co-dependent cashiers. Then I swiped my card for the $600 worth of what might go for $20 in a garage sale in a few months, and the card was declined. Declined! How is that possible when I have paid faithfully for years to American Airlines Citicard, where I console myself monthly that at least I am accumulating miles? “Please, please don't make me put everything up,” I beg the cashier, “Just give me a minute.” With 2% power on my phone, I dial the number on the back of my card and a foreign voice answers with the greeting— "Fraud control. I need you to verify a few things before we can okay this purchase.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Because you have never shopped at this store and the amount is large.” she answers calmly. “Tell me your mother's maiden name.”
“I am sorry, I can't understand you, say it again please.”
Again I say it and again she doesn't understand what I am saying.
I watch as all the people in a rush in the line behind me perk up as I say in a loud voice, “Harrison."
“What is the name of your first pet?” she asks.
“What?” she says, and so again to a small group of now comrades in a battle to win the Christmas war, I say with loud conviction, "Velvet".
But in recalling my mother's secret name and the name of my beloved dog from youth, along with the reality that I am talking to someone halfway across the globe so that I can buy plastic and synthetic fabric, I desperately just want to leave. She okays my purchase, and with strangers in line that now know the security code on my card, the last four digits of my social, the maiden name of my mother, and my favorite pet's name, I walk out and tears well up in the dark morning with a soft rain falling. I think I cried because no matter how old I get, I still miss my mom on Christmas. Like all of us in this season, we miss those who have died that we treasure dearly. This time of year brings those beloved to us closer, even if they have been gone for years. I remember her on Christmas Eves past, before St. Luke's Community Center opened to distribute presents to folks in need, running out early to get us something we longed for.
I think I teared up as I felt the countless generations of men and women running out on Christmas Eve to make sure the right thing was under the tree for someone they loved. How long have we been doing this? Enduring the stress, breaking our personal lines of where we will shop or what we will buy, and screaming out our secrets, all in the name of love. Beyond the theology of Christmas and the historical account of the Birth, there is something magical about holding this night as holy that makes us tender. This is a night to let yourself feel the tenderness of your flesh heart that aches for the brokenness of the world, the kindness of strangers, and the love that you house in your body.
Finally in the midst of the dark morning, I imagined Mary, the mother of God. In the midst of a story about a shining star, pilgrim shepherds, and angel voices, the story is told that she treasured things in her heart that were probably unseen and maybe beyond words. She treasured her love incarnate, and it carried her through the years. This is the season to give thanks for the treasures of our hearts. Treasuring it all in our hearts allows us at a cash register at dawn to easily recall our favorite pet’s name, or the name of our mother before she was a mother. What we treasure is not a love to be hoarded, but love that is poured out and used to shine light in this world. I imagine Mary at the wedding in Cana as Jesus began his public ministry recalling all she treasured in her heart. I imagine her at the foot of the cross saying goodbye to her son, lifting up all that she treasured as an assurance that her love would not die with her son. We can treasure so much on this holy night and in this season. Love is the treasure offered to us that can carry us through hard seasons and long winter nights. Treasure all the people around you and the beauty of this holy night. Then use this treasure in gratitude and know it never runs out.
“So the shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."