Mystery, Wonder and Joy

Author Anna Quindlen shared a story with the 2000 graduating class of Villanova University.

*“I found one of my best teachers,”  she said, “on the boardwalk at Coney Island maybe 15 years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless survive in the winter months.

He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule; panhandling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amidst the Tilt a Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides. But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them.

And I asked him why. Why didn’t he go to one of the shelters? Why didn’t he check himself into the hospital for detox? And he just stared out at the ocean and said, ‘Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.’”

That first Christmas did not arrive when and how Mary and Joseph expected, or would have chosen. Forced on a journey late in Mary’s pregnancy, both  stressed and complicated their lives. Arriving in a crowded city, they discover there is no room for them. No room to rest. No place of privacy.   No room for a first time mother to give birth to her baby. Eventually, someone has compassion, offering a stable as a place for the young couple to stay.

A manger becomes Jesus’s first bed. Everything has gone wrong, but God’s work of love in Jesus is given to the world. In spite of it all, dare say because of it, Mary and Joseph find the night blessed. Shepherds visit with tales of angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” sending them to Bethlehem, to see this newborn messiah. The view from Bethlehem becomes dazzling with mystery, wonder and joy.

“And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And (Mary) gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7

*Author Anna Quindlen’s commencement address to Villanova University, Friday 23 June 2000

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