A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Advent Challenge

by Maria Kennedy

Barbara decided she would spend Advent bringing Christmas cheer. She would try to say positive things and do positive acts that brought goodwill to her fellows. Her husband Roger didn’t quite decide, but more casually adopted a more reflective approach to preparing himself for Christmas. He would continue to take life at a slow pace and be available to whatever or whoever came along. Between the two of them, it meant they would receive some unexpected and very welcome visitors in the lead-up to Christmas.

Barbara was ready to take on her Advent challenge when she met up with fellow parishioner Douglas. Barbara listened attentively for a good 15 minutes, allowing him to tell her about his latest health problems. Roger stood on the side, half-pie listening. Christmas this year, he reflected, was about as exciting as Douglas’s latest visit to the doctor. The oldest three boys couldn’t make it home. With Alison and Steve’s marriage breakdown earlier in the year, Alison was having the children for Christmas, and they were getting Steve. Roger didn’t expect Steve would be feeling very joyful. Roger also suspected that Barbara’s decision to bring some Christmas cheer was more about keeping her own spirit buoyant, with such a quiet Christmas before them.

Still, Roger admired Barbara’s spirit. She wasn’t giving up on Christmas without a fight. While standing in the long line at the checkout, instead of criticising the store for not putting on extra staff, Barbara simply commented to Roger that it was a good chance to recite a few quiet Hail Marys for a blessed Christmas.

At home over the following week, Roger noticed Barbara taking extra care with sending out Christmas cards, when she would usually grumble that the postage was too expensive to bother. And instead of sending money as gifts for the adult children (it was better they got what they wanted), she started looking through her recipe book. She would bake a Christmas cake to accompany each Christmas card and cheque, along with the usual gifts for the grandchildren.

But Roger could see Barbara was starting to get a little worked up. “Now that Steve and Alison have separated, should I make two cakes, one for Steve and one for Alison? Matthew and Susan are spending Christmas with Alison this year and I don’t want them to feel they are missing out.”

Roger shrugged. “Do whatever you like.” Roger was still getting used to Matthew and Susan living in another town and seeing them only in the school holidays. He didn’t care who got what cake.

“If I made Alison a cake would she think I was overstepping the mark? She can be very sensitive about people taking over her life.”

Roger shrugged again. “It’s just a cake.”

“Are you blind? I don’t want to upset Alison. I just want to bring her a little Christmas cheer.”

Roger sat up. What could he say to make her feel better? If he said bake the cake, he would probably be accused of straining family relationships. And if he said don’t bake the cake, that would be akin to cutting Alison out of the family. So Roger tried flattery.

“Who would be upset about receiving one of your beautiful fruit cakes? They are legendary in the family. Anyone would be delighted to receive a Christmas cake from you.”

Barbara looked up from her recipe book. “You are so right Roger. It is just a cake. Why should I be tying myself up in knots? Christmas is about family. I must give Alison a call.”

Quite frankly, Roger was very surprised by Barbara’s positive response. He had said something right, whatever it was. Perhaps it was a graced moment.

As the weeks went by, Barbara became even more enthusiastic to bring Christmas cheer to everyone around her. She was, it seemed to Roger, in constant motion, and Roger was there to play his part. “Roger, I need some more eggs from the supermarket.” “Roger, I’ve cleaned out my cupboards. Could you take this box down to St Vincent de Paul’s?”

On this particular day, Roger was sitting in his chair reading the paper. He shook the paper out in an expression of hope that Barbara would give him some peace and quiet for the next little while.

Just then, Roger heard the sound of voices followed by footsteps running down the path to the front door. Roger lowered his newspaper. Before he had a chance to take another breath, there was his grandson Matthew standing in front of him.

“What are you doing here?” asked Roger, incredulous.

“Susan and I are coming to stay for a few days. Is that OK Grandad? Mum and Dad are both busy and it’s the school holidays.”

Roger was overjoyed. “You can stay as long as you like. Come and give Grandad a hug.”

Roger stood up. “Where’s Susan? Where’s your Nana? How did you get here?”

Barbara stood in the doorway to the lounge with her hands on her hips, and beside her stood their son Steve with a cheeky grin on his face. “We didn’t know whether to tell you or not,” he said, “but seeing the look on your face, it was worth keeping it a secret.”

“It’s just so lovely to have them come and stay. It’s like having an early Christmas,” replied Roger, with a completely renewed outlook on this year’s Christmas.

Susan ran into the room and took her Nana’s hand. “Which bed am I sleeping in?”

“Come on. I’ll show you.”

Roger stood there with the newspaper on the floor and Matthew at his side. He was overcome with a feeling of good will.

Mary and Joseph enjoyed unexpected visitors after the birth of Christ. In the joy of the moment, God drew the shepherds to Himself through the heavenly singing of the angels. Everything is filled with goodwill and light. All of this wonderment is centred on a tiny, defenceless newborn, sleeping in a manger. And the baby’s parents, Mary and Joseph, stuck in Bethlehem without their family, were probably very pleased to have the shepherds’ company. I hope a shepherd’s wife sent them down a meal.

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