Wandering Away From the Manger


“I want to go with Sissy and Margot,” asserted their overly adventurous underage sister. “No,” replied mom and dad in unison. Four-year-old Terry had learned that whenever her parents were synchronized in their replies there was no use trying to pit one against the other to get her way. She was the spoiled baby, according to her older siblings, the apple of their father’s eye and the only daughter who could enchant their mother into a beguiled affirmation after receiving a diatribe of declines. Terry was the darling of the family and she knew it.

But despite her magnetism, charisma and favor, Terry was barred from her sisters’ Sunday afternoon ventures to visit classmates who lived several streets away. And this came as a sad reminder that she was still too young to join in their escapades every time she wanted to, which was, to their chagrin, most of the time. At last, the two older girls were locomoting across town, rid of the weight of their caboose, and steaming full speed ahead to the homemade goodies, the secluded backyard, and, yes, the growing teenage boys who lived in a roundhouse nestled conveniently six long blocks away from prying eyes. Even better, Terry had never been there. To them, this was freedom from babysitting, from being upstaged by Miss Center-of-Attention, and from a tattletale who saw too much and reported everything she saw in too much detail.

If mom and dad had any suspicions about a possible birds-and-bees’ development between their older daughters and these classmate boyfriends, they surely would have insisted that little Terry tag along to document a full-blown report about any shenanigans or goings on between her senior siblings and those developing males from the other side of the tracks. But since these parents held well-grounded trust in their blossoming adolescents, their youngest was grounded for the duration. Or so they thought.

“Can I at least sit on the porch?” The stay-at-home orphan knew how to bat her tear-glossing blue eyes over frowning pink lips and whine her way into securing at least a generously wedged piece whenever she was deprived of the whole pie. “Fine,” said dad. “But stay on the porch,” mom quickly added. The matriarch was far too familiar with the wily charms that her young daughter held over her soft-hearted husband. “And make sure we can hear you,” she added as insurance against any daring capers.

While mom and dad retired to the couch in front of the television, Terry surveyed the landscape from her perch on their L-shaped balcony. She dragged an aluminum lawn chair against the raised window and wall that separated the interior living room from her exterior sanctuary. She began to hum softly. Her soprano vocals were just loud enough for her folks to hear during the rare breaks of silence between infrequent commercials. Not until 15 minutes had passed without a peep from the porch did mom turn to dad with her maternal alarm, “She’s been too quiet. We better check on her.” “I’m sure she’s fine,” retorted the king of the castle in defense of his delightful princess. Nevertheless, he muted the TV speakers and uttered a final brief in her defense. “Maybe she fell asleep,” he suggested. “She hasn’t napped in three months,” scoffed mom who rose to her feet with the unfinished threat, “And if she has wandered off…”

Suddenly they discovered their homing pigeon had flown the coop and the hunt was on. Mom and dad sprang from the safety of their lofty home to the terrifying streets below shouting “Terry, Ter-eee” like two town criers of old. Their anxiety and volume increased with each unanswered step as the heart-pounding couple combed up one block and down the next.

During her search for her sisters, Terry had stopped by a row of hedges to observe a butterfly struggling to escape from its outgrown cocoon. She was so enthralled by this model behavior of battling for liberty that she unconsciously turned a deaf ear to the frenetic wails of her desperately frightened folks. When they spied her at last, their final shriek brought her back to the reality of her sinful disappearance.

“Don’t you ever leave without saying so,” chimed mother and father together as they embraced their vagabond tightly. Then the trinity shed tears of relief over their happily safe and sound reunion.

Christmas celebrates eternity entering into time and divinity into humanity. Since Adam and Eve, creatures have often wandered away from the Creator’s permanent porch, tempted by their fascination with transitory worldly distractions and never leaving a word about where they were going. Sin is exactly that. We wander away from God deliberately not saying where we are going or when we might return. In coming to Bethlehem, Jesus finds us, reminds us of our call to innocence, and helps us forge our way back to the Father via crib, cross, and sacrament. Once again, we rejoice that God is with us. What better time to ask ourselves, “Have we wandered away from our Creator without saying why, or where, or for how long?”

Holy Homework: Giftwrap an empty box to mimic a present without a name and place this box at some distance from the other Christmas gifts. During the holiday season, whenever we see this separated package, let’s offer a prayer of thanksgiving for Mary’s “yes” to the Incarnation and to Jesus who came to save us from the times we wander far away from God’s love.

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