by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister (Designated Term)

During the Christmas season, I gravitate toward books that have uplifting messages of love and hope. For my personal reading, I also tend to choose books with a Christmas theme or books set during the Christmas season. This year, I’ve been reading a series of books by Debbie Macomber featuring a character by the name of Emily Miracle, also known as Mrs. Miracle. You may be familiar with Debbie Macomber’s books or the made-for-TV movies (on the Hallmark Channel) based on some of her books. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her works, Debbie Macomber’s stories typically feature likeable characters for whom faith is either central to them or at least a part of their lives.

Mrs. Miracle is certainly a likeable character with a lot of faith. She shows up in people’s lives when they need a little help, a little miracle. You might say she’s an angel, albeit an angel that looks like everyone else. The only truly miraculous thing about her is that somehow she knows things about people that they haven’t shared with her. She seems to always know what people really need, even before they’ve realized this. Emily Miracle is a comforting figure, rather like the wonderful grandmother you either had as a child, or wish you had had as a child.

As I’ve been enjoying these stories this year, I’ve been struck by something – the primary role of Mrs. Miracle is to bring people together. She has a “knack” for bringing individuals together who have the ability to help each other. When Mrs. Miracle brings people together, they find what they need, be it love, companionship, comfort, hope, joy. Of course, there may be a little “magic” involved in getting these people together, but the real magic happens after people get together. And that is something people create themselves. Ultimately, then, the real miracles in these stories are the miracles individuals create for each other through acts of kindness, through caring, and through love.

We often say that Christmas is a season of miracles. We have a sense that anything can happen. After all, we’re celebrating the miraculous birth of the baby Jesus and the hope which Jesus’ life brought into our world. In our own lives, this may be a season when we look a little more intently for miracles, especially when things are difficult. It’s a season when we look forward with the hope that things will get better, that we will find what we need to feel the comfort and joy that the story of Christmas promises to us. Sometimes we find these miracles in some rather astounding ways that we just can’t explain. And that’s wonderful. But more often than not, I would guess that we find these miracles within the relationships we have with each other – through people reaching out in little (and not so little) ways to offer support, and care, and love. You might say that the miracles of the season are found in each other.

Many years ago, I found myself on a cross-country train at Christmas. I was going from upstate New York to California to see my mom, who wasn’t doing well. It was a sudden change of plans from a large family gathering on the East Coast to my solo trip across the country. And as I boarded the California Zephyr in Chicago in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I wasn’t exactly in the Christmas spirit. I was still feeling more than a little glum that evening as I went to the dining car for Christmas Eve dinner. And then, everything changed.

When I reached the dining car, I was met by members of the crew wearing headbands of reindeer antlers, some with green and red bells hanging off the antlers, jingling merrily as they walked the aisle between tables. I had to smile at that. Then, I was seated with an older couple from Michigan who were traveling to Denver to see their daughter and son-in-law, and brand new baby grandchild. And we had the nicest conversation. To top it off, the dinner was delicious.

That year, all of us on the train were away from home for Christmas Eve. The crew members were working their jobs. The passengers were in route somewhere. Not one of us had a Christmas tree that night, or church services, or brightly wrapped packages waiting for us the next morning. And yet, it truly felt like Christmas as we shared in the seasonal silliness and companionable conversation. We became a patchwork family that night, sharing of our selves. The warmth of the Christmas spirit that enveloped me that evening lifted my gloom, and renewed my sense of hope. For me, that was more than a small miracle and it sustained me as I continued on to my destination.

Now, I didn’t meet anyone named Mrs. Miracle on that trip, but I did meet several individuals who helped me see the miracles around me. I definitely felt God with me, guiding me to meet the people whose presence and conversation would sustain me and strengthen me. But, just as with Mrs. Miracle’s “knack” for bringing people together, ultimately it was up to us to extend to each other the care and compassion we needed. That Christmas showed me that such miracles are all around us just waiting for us to see them. This year, when so much is different, may we each find the miracles we need to feel the hope, peace, joy, and love of this blessed Christmas Season. Merry Christmas!