Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Not Tarzan

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 17, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky The increasing glee in the voices of little children is a sure sign that Christmas draws nigh. The night before Christmas, that glee universally turns to silent stares of awe before brightly decorated trees propped up by packages of love. Tiny fingers are eager to release the bows and strings of ribbon which stand between mystery and expectant hearts.

Every household maintains its Christmas rituals, but sooner or later the paper is ripped and the delightful plunder is gathered. Let the fun begin!

Children delight in receiving toys for Christmas. Not necessarily the latest gadgets advertised on television, but the playthings that carry children off into imaginary lands and project them into hours of enjoyment.

In many households, Christmas glee occasionally turns unexpectedly to little broken hearts. It certainly did in our home when I divided the Christmas plunder with seven brothers and two sisters. Mom always said we kids could even break the unbreakable plastic toys generated by modern technology. And usually, before Christmas evening, someone’s favorite Christmas toy was already headed for the repair shop.

Long gone is the memory of how our toys actually got broken or even who was responsible for such a dastardly deed on Christmas Day. Not forgotten, however, is the memory of how broken toys somehow seemed to ruin the joy of Christmas. Christmas was to be a perfect day, but the broken toys – and the tears and arguments which followed – seemed to mar what had promised to be a perfect day.

There is no justification or excuse for those broken toys which just could not withstand the tortures of rough-housing and unbridled play – and I won’t try to make one. What strikes me this Christmas is the juxtaposition of broken toys and the expectation that Christmas Day is supposed to be perfect. I wonder if there is a lesson in Christmas spirituality hidden in there somewhere.

Our preparations and expectant hearts approach Christmas as if at least this one day would be without blemish. No arguments, no harsh comments, no hurt feelings, no broken toys. When these things happen – and they always seem to happen when we least expect it – Christmas Day is ruined, or at least tarnished.

Is there a presupposition here that the first Christmas was a perfect day? Or is there a presumption that Jesus entered into our world on Christmas Day to make it perfect, to solve all our problems for us while we busied ourselves with various forms of playfulness?

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining ’til he appeared and the soul felt its worth” may be the words of a popular Christmas carol, but there is no room here for letting Baby Jesus fix it all. The Son of Mary does enter into a broken and imperfect world. The brokenness is not God’s doing; it’s undoing, in a sense, is not God’s doing, either. If we perceive Jesus as God come to fix all the broken toys of our world, leaving us passive bystanders, we truly miss the point of the feast we celebrate.

Jesus is no Tarzan wrapped in swaddling clothes, swooping into human history, repair bag in hand. Jesus comes into human history as each and every one of us has entered it: born of woman, and born into a situation of incompleteness and imperfection.

We cannot forget on Christmas Day that the One whose birth we celebrate is no longer a babe in a manger. He is an adult who has suffered the brokenness of the human condition, but who has triumphed over its deceitful lure to complacency and irresponsibility. Conquering even the ultimate brokenness of death, the Child born in Bethlehem offers us a way to live and the strength to triumph over the brokenness in our own lives. He fixes nothing for us, but calls forth within us that awesome dignity which is ours as a son or daughter of God, thereby enabling us to live in freedom and joy.

We need not accept brokenness as part and parcel of the human condition. It may be what we experience at times, but it is not the plan of God for us. The work of God on earth must truly be our own. In God who has lived and who continues to live with us, brokenness has lost its power.

This reflection gives no one an excuse to break toys on Christmas Day. But it does caution against letting a few broken toys ruin our day of celebration. Even in brokenness, the message of Christmas is proclaimed. God has come among us in flesh to call us from whatever in us makes us break things (and people) to a cherishing of the one gift we all receive on Christmas Day — the gift of God’s love. That gift is absolutely unbreakable.

(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)

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