by Ken Rolheiser
Advent’s chances to get it right

    Merrell Dukes, an executive of B. Lowenstein & Bros. department store in Memphis, Tennessee tells this story. During the Christmas rush, a basement buyer told Merrell, “I just caught one of our clerks lifting some merchandise. She has been fired, of course. Perhaps you ought to talk to her.”
    The middle-aged woman was sitting in the office, red-faced. “Will you tell me what happened?” Merrell asked her kindly.
    The woman made no attempt to lie or alibi. She told of taking some shirts, scarfs, and jackets for her children. “I paid for some of them and intended to buy the rest, but I just got weak and took them,” she said lamely.
    “How many children do you have?”
    “Four. Most of the stuff was for the twins. That’s why I went to work—so I could buy them all Christmas presents. My husband only makes fifty dollars a week.”
    Merrell, too, was the father of twins. They talked for a few minutes about the woman’s twins, who were in the fourth grade. “Why do you celebrate Christmas?” Merrell then asked her.
    “It’s the birth of the Savior.”
    “Do you talk about this when you give gifts to your children?”
    The woman hesitated. “Not like I should,” she said, softly. “It’s one of those things you always mean to do, but never find time for around the Christmas rush.”
    “What do you think would be the best gift you could give your children this Christmas?”
    Her eyes filled with tears; the woman thought this over. “A good mother,” she finally said.
    Then she broke down completely and pleaded with Merrell not to inform her family. Merrell talked with her for some time, mostly about the real meaning of Christmas. Soon the woman was composed enough to go home, assured that she would not be prosecuted, nor would her family learn of the incident.
    Several days later the personnel manager of the store received a remarkable letter from this woman. She wrote:
    “Please thank the gentleman who kept me from spoiling Christmas for my children. I am very grateful for the thoughts he gave me, for just the next day my twin daughter came home from school to tell me that she had learned the real meaning of Christmas in school.
    “We talked together about how much better it was to give love and laughter and integrity at Christmas than the most expensive gift. I certainly learned a lot from my mistake, and this year we are going to have the best Christmas we’ve ever had.” (Christmas stories from Norman Vincent Peale).
    When I was a youth, I had a pastor who used to tell jokes as part of his homily. Then he went on to explain the joke in case we missed the punch line. Well, Peale’s Christmas story above needs little explanation. It does need reflection and application to our lives.
    Jesus is the author of second chances. Of seventy-seven chances. And even when we have “no chances” left, we get another chance with God. 
    We have another Advent and another Christmas to get our lives straightened around , and to get it right. And we can share the true meaning of all this with our loved ones.
    “The Lord is coming, always coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see, you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord.” (Henri Nouwen).

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