"What shall I give him, poor as I am?"
- Christina Rossetti, In the Bleak Midwinter
Four years ago, Christmas Eve found me and my then-husband Charlie in a small town in western New York to visit his recently bereaved father, Al. That part of New York has bleak, bitter winters because of the humidity supplied by the nearby Great Lakes. We skipped dinner on the road so we could share a meal with Al, but we arrived after nightfall to find no dinner and almost no food in the house. I was beside myself! Charlie had spoken to Al at least three times during the 11-hour car ride; why hadn't he mentioned he had no food? And why hadn't Charlie asked? We could have brought a meal, had we known.
The town was too small to support a grocery store, but it would not have mattered: by the time we got there, every business in town was closed except one: a gas station with a Subway. So off we went for Christmas Eve dinner, me shivering in the raw air and keeping my frustrated mouth shut so I wouldn't get myself in trouble.
Inside the nearly silent store, a young man stood behind the cash register and a girl, perhaps 16 or 17, was making sandwiches. She looked about as sullen as I felt. Putting aside my own irritation at having to be there, I jokingly asked her if she'd like me to sing a couple of carols as she worked. To my great surprise, she looked right at me, her expression softening, and said, "Yes. Please. There's no music here and you would never even know it's Christmas and I would love you to sing."
So I did. Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem and probably Winter Wonderland and finally We Wish You a Merry Christmas, with Charlie and Al and possibly the guy at the register joining in on the last one.
She wrapped up our food and thanked me so sincerely that I nearly cried on the spot. I felt both ashamed of my petty, selfish reaction at my grief-stricken father in law not supplying the picture-perfect holiday I felt entitled to, and happy that I had a present to give the girl who had to work Christmas Eve at a gas station. And you know what? That moment of service and her appreciation were the nicest gifts I gave and received during that year, and honestly, over many others too.
Dear Lord, help us keep our expectations in check so that we may find the unexpected blessings this Christmas season. Help us to see - and serve - the Christ child in all those around us: our families and friends, the strangers we encounter, and even the sullen kid at the gas station or mall or wherever we meet him or her. Thank you for the wondrous gift of your love: help us share it with the world!