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The True Gift of Christmas
By Larry Zurek, O.F.M.
A little boy in an airport rekindles a priest’s love for the holiday season.

Q U I C K S C A N

Lightened Moods, Enlivened Hearts
God So Loved the World
The Wisdom of One Child


ILLUSTRATION BY NICOLE WONG

A YEAR AGO I found myself at the airport in Atlanta, trying to get a flight back to Bloomington, Illinois. Ice and rain had caused havoc in the city. When I got to the airport, the monitor showed that many flights had been delayed, others had been canceled. Luckily, my flight to Bloomington was listed as being on time.

As I sat in the waiting area by the gate, my flight, which had been on schedule, was now being posted as 15 minutes delayed. Fifteen minutes turned into another 15 minutes, then a gate change, then another 15-minute delay—and yet another gate change.

Many people at the airport that day, including me, were not happy campers. We all had places to be, schedules to keep, and the weather messed up all our plans.

The tension was evident as folks grumbled at the airline personnel at the gate. People were complaining out loud to whoever would listen. You could see the unhappiness written in the furrows on foreheads and the lack of smiles on faces.

Lightened Moods, Enlivened Hearts

In the midst of all this, a young couple entered with a baby stroller and a young boy riding on top of a suitcase his father was toting. If you have ever traveled with children, you know it can certainly be a challenge, even under the best of circumstances, let alone when there are flight delays, gate changes and cancellations.

But these two children were an absolute delight. It was amazing to see the reaction of those gathered in the gate area when the children and their parents arrived. The little baby was a bundle of joy—oohing and aahing, giggling and clapping his hands. His innocent joy brought smiles to many a frowning face, including mine.

The other child, a little boy about two or three years of age, oblivious to the fact that their flight was delayed, began to sing. It’s a song I believe most of us know and perhaps sang when we were children.

And ever since that day at the airport, it has become one of my favorite Christian hymns. It goes like this: “Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so!”

You would not believe the difference this little boy made in the lives of those gathered at the gate on that day. People’s moods suddenly began to change. The anger, the impatience and frustration at the many delays seemed instantaneously to melt away.

People, who moments earlier were grumbling, arguing with the airline personnel, frustrated by their situation, were now being calmed by the singing of a little boy about how Jesus loves him.

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Is that not the message we long to hear this Christmas? Do we not need to hear anew how much we are loved?

These two little children were oblivious to the delays. They had no schedules to keep. But they knew they were loved. Mom and Dad were there beside them and nothing else really mattered. The baby could coo and giggle and the little boy could sing because they knew they were loved.

Sometimes in the busyness of life, in the frustration, the disappointments, the deadlines, the rat race we often find ourselves in, we tend to forget what this little boy reminded us older and more mature folks gathered in the gate area that day: We are loved.

God so loved the world—you and me—that Jesus, God’s only begotten son, was sent to redeem us. Jesus was born, lived, suffered, died and rose from the dead to remind each and every one of us that we are loved.

Have you reason to doubt the Lord’s love for you? Perhaps you have not been a very good Catholic. You have failed to practice your faith, to give witness to it, to defend it. Remember the message of Christmas: Yes, Jesus loves you!

Have you committed a grave sin? Perhaps you have been unfaithful to your spouse, failing to invest yourself totally in the relationship. Or maybe you destroyed another person’s good name or reputation, out of revenge, jealousy or anger. Remember the message of Christmas: Yes, Jesus loves you!

Do you live your life with hardly a thought of God each day, trying to fight all the battles in your life without grace? Or do you think of God only when you need something? Remember the message of Christmas: Yes, Jesus loves you!

Have you betrayed a friend, stolen from your employer or failed to be a good friend to another? Remember the message of Christmas: Yes, Jesus loves you!

Jesus loves you, no matter what you’ve done, how far you may have fallen, no matter how many sins you have committed or how serious they were. He loves you. But he loves you too much to let you stay there.

Christ came to show us the way back to the Father, who is the way, the truth and the life. He came to free us from the grip of sin and our enslavement to it. He knows we are not perfect and that, despite our best efforts, we often come up short.

Jesus loves us just the same. But if we allow his love to enter our hearts, then we will find the grace and the strength to overcome any sin we find ourselves wrestling with or that we know has a hold on us.

Zacchaeus, the tax collector who cheated and extorted money from others, experienced this. The thief who hung on the cross next to Jesus in his last hours experienced it, too. He found that the Lord had stolen his heart for paradise.

In a crowded airport, a little boy made a difference in the lives of those who were frustrated by flight delays and cancellations. He reminded us, in his simplicity and innocence, that Jesus loves us.

During the Christmas season we come to celebrate the birth of a little boy who is love itself, Jesus the Christ. He continues to remind us that we are loved.

Just like in the song: “Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so!”

Larry Zurek, O.F.M., is the pastor of Sacred Heart and St. Joseph in Peoria, Illinois. He would like to add: “On behalf of the Franciscan friars at Sacred Heart as well as our pastoral staff, I wish you a most blessed and Merry Christmas! May you know in the depths of your hearts that Jesus loves you!”


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