Saturday, December 11

Advent 2010

My Grandfather Finley was born in Calvert City, Kentucky, near Paducah, in August, 1880, and grew up in the aftermath of the Civil War.  His earliest recollections were of those Confederate veterans who proudly recounted their battle experiences and of the rough-and-tumble characters who populated the farms and sawmills of Western Kentucky.  Most of all, he remembered that the economic times were extremely difficult and that there were many occasions when the family barely had enough to make ends meet.

As one of nine children, my grandfather often ended up with the remaining wing at the dinner table as his older siblings vied for the better parts of the chicken.  And with older brothers in the family, he routinely inherited hand-me-down clothing in the form of well-worn shirts and pants.  Yet, nothing quite compared to the disappointment he felt on Christmas Day, 1885.  Early that morning, he joined his brothers and sisters by jumping out of bed and racing to the main living area of their farmhouse in search of stockings filled with nuts, a few pieces of candy, and, if they were especially fortunate, a boy's pocketknife or a girl's handmade doll.  But tragically, on that particular Christmas morning there was no stocking with my grandfather's name on it.  In the rush to provide small presents for eight other children, his parents somehow had overlooked him.  Then, my grandfather heard the words that would linger in his broken heart for more than ninety additional years as his father, my great-grandfather, remarked, "Well, Freeman, it looks like we forgot you this year."

To be sure, my grandfather often told this story later in his life to family members, friends, and acquaintances in order to evoke more than a little sympathy and, I suppose, to make his own grandchildren grateful for whatever we received at Christmas.  Yet, the fact that he obtained some good mileage out of the story does not make it any less incomprehensible to me.  I still wonder:  How could a small boy, surrounded by an extended family of three generations that loved him, be so roundly overlooked, even in difficult times?

Truth to tell, children are almost never on the side of strength and power.  They are weak and powerless; they cannot fend for themselves; they can go unnoticed or forgotten by the very persons who are supposed to protect and care for them in the world.  Worst of all, they occasionally find themselves at the mercy of cruel adults who mistreat, victimize, or abuse them in unspeakable ways.  Perhaps this is why the scriptures come down so squarely on the side of the widows, orphans, and all others for whom no provision is made in life.

The birth narratives of Jesus remind us of the risk that was inherent in the Incarnation.  The angel's invitation came to a young, unmarried woman who might have rejected the whole idea.  Jesus was born in an out-of-the-way village and placed in a manger under the gaze of lowing cattle and lowly shepherds.  Because of King Herod's announced intention to do him harm, Mary and Joseph took their infant son and went running for their lives to Egypt.  Imagine:  The God of all mercies was placed at our mercy in the form of a helpless, defenseless child.

- John Finley



Almighty God, teach us what "The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong" means.  And help us to apply what we have learned to make the world a better place.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

- Matthew McClain


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