By Jim O'Leary
An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.
Dec. 15, 2001
"At nightfall weeping enters in, but with the dawn rejoicing." (Ps. 29)
Every Advent it's the same. The winter starts to seem longer. The world seems to be getting even colder and darker. Then, all of a sudden, in church they light the Advent wreath, and our childish hopes come back to us once again, but then . . . "Hey, we've done this over and over, and nothing ever happened. The dark and the cold own the world. Live with it. Get a life!"
Yes, Jesus did come to bring light from darkness, but it didn't work. Why is it still dark and cold, and why are all those people standing around, the same people who said to the man born blind, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
They didn't get it then, and we don't get it now.
The early Christians got it right, though. They could see in the dark.
The early Christians stole the idea of a Feast of Light from the Romans.
It had been a pagan celebration. The Romans had calculated their date from years of observing European winters, when every year it would seem the sun had just about petered out, hitting the top of its peak of diminishment, and then changing its mind and coming back - starting about this time of year when daylight actually started to lengthen.
"Sol Invictus" they called it. "The Unconquered Sun."
The Christians had also noted that, as part of the pagan Feast of Light, the pagans had made a Hitler out of their emperor.
Sometimes that emperor would claim divinity, more or less. His birthday was a big deal.
Unlike the Greek or Roman gods, who didn't have calendar birthdays, the emperor's birthday on earth was a special day.
He started claiming worship from his subjects, and not only birthday honors. The office had apparently gone to his head, because on the emperor's birthday, you had better rejoice or else.
The birth of Jesus was a much different matter. Here was a birthday which was the birth of light itself, or so the Christians thought.
Here was God - being born as a human? Very strange, very unbelievable.
There was nothing like it - no equivalent, a kingdom instead of a kingdom, a monarch without an army, a topsy-turvy sort of place where the lame would enter first and a small child would be the model for holiness, and where you had to sit down and eat with everybody, whether you liked them or not.
In fact, you even had to invite them, strangers, or even worse. People you would cross the street to avoid. These would be your dinner companions, even as your Christmas guests if you were serious about the matter.
It was a birthday the whole world would be in on, starting with the poorest of the poor - the cold, dumb, smelly shepherds out in the dark with their cold, dumb, smelly sheep, and ending with kings, for God's sake, kings from all over the world, astrologer kings, lost kings, superstitious, unenlightened kings, but kings nonetheless.
The richest of the rich, coming into view in an odd, imperfect story, in an odd, imperfect world. Not only the star, but the whole sky exploded that night with a light to blind or reveal. A light like the sun - the unconquered sun.
So, our Christian ancestors fixed the date of Dec. 25, just off by a few days from the winter solstice, and every Dec. 25 since the second century the hope has always been that peace would break out all over the world, the poor would be fed, all human life, all animal life would be cherished, and lights would go on all over in the cold, dark world.
However, it never happened. Year after year. It's like getting fooled over and over again.
It's like Lucy holding the football. We make fools of ourselves, with shopping, and eggnog, and church-going, and football games.
We just go nuts at Christmas. Afterwards, we swear never again. Nothing happened. "Fool me
once . . . " but not twice.
And then along come the lights again, just like I said, including the same old star, the one that never left us. The one that sometimes does call us to prayer and reflection in place of our office parties and traffic jams.
The light of our poor Advent wreath in the middle of it all sometimes does challenge us to stop dead in our tracks and look up and see.
The lights keep coming. Sometimes they are colored strings of lights.
Sometimes they are shopping mall lights. Sometimes they are guiding lights.
Into El Paso and Santa Fe and Waverly and Fiji and Bethlehem. And into Belfast and Baghdad and Belgrade and Bogota come the lights, all kinds of lights.
And into New York City and Kandahar - they keep coming and coming.
They aren't all exploding lights accompanying destruction. Some of them are the lights Abraham saw in the desert, the promising lights, the uncountable stars. Some of them are Christmas lights.
So, we do see the lights, and then, we stop dead in our tracks again, turn, and head back to Bethlehem one more time.
We are called back on that hopeful journey. To take another look into that stable, just one more peek into that dark cave, hoping against hope once again.
We get down on our knees. And we peer into the cave.
And one of these years our eyes will be opened and we will see the Light.
And the world will never look the same.
Christmas Eve in Waverly
Dan Herbst tells us there are four times a year when returning to Waverly is a must: Memorial Day, the opening day of duck hunting season, St. Patrick's Day, and Christmas Eve Christmas caroling.
Dan is right. Christmas caroling in Waverly is the best in the world.
I do remember . . .
Christmas Eve, 1948 - we were St. Mary's seniors that year: Bern Althoff, Don Smith, John Gagnon, Annella Negus, Marion Borrell, Margaret Rogers, Joan Quast, Agnes Reardon, Eddie Paul, Rosemary Galvin, Margaret Decker, Margaret Galvin, and I were all caroling prior to the midnight Mass.
The coal smoke from the houses went straight to the sky over the hushed town. Father Morgan was still with us. My brothers and their friends were all there, back from the war now for good.
The Minnesota snow crunched under our feet. We had covered every bit of Waverly. At Doc Roholt's we sang "Jingle Bells." Back then we didn't know that a Protestant family could appreciate a religious carol.
The Roholts, as usual, had a box of chocolates for us, and they took a flash picture.
My parents followed us in their 1936 Plymouth, windows rolled down so they could hear the caroling. They were part of a procession of cars filled with people who had the same idea.
The stars in their millions seemed close and touchable. There were intermittent northern lights.
After Kinkors' house, catty-cornered from the church, always the last stop, we straggled up into the choir loft where we would take off our overshoes.
We would sing in the choir for the midnight High Mass, receive Holy Communion together and then go home to be with our families.
I knew it was too good to last.
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