The Christmas Eve Letter of Fra Giovanni 1513
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.
Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.
The season of sparkle is upon us... if we so desire... for I understand that some years one finds it easy to take delight in the season and then there are years we wish it would all go away quickly. Sparkle is the last things on our mind.
That is one of the reasons I adore this letter by Fra Giovanni, written long ago but the words hold true today. There are years when we can hardly wait to play Christmas music and wrap the gifts and invite friends and family over for Christmas cookies. But this lovely letter provides advice for a friend who is walking in a season of trials and darkness.
For most of us, when we were children the entire season seemed as one long adventure into a land of fairies and expectations. We had no problem showing our excitement over the colorful twinkle lights found throughout town on dark winter evenings.
As far as we could see, the world was a place filled with possibilities such as desired gifts and delicious frosted cookies. We listened to Christmas music on the radio, if we were not struggling to hear what the adults were saying in whispered tones, hoping to hear what we were getting for Christmas.
I think many people try to relive those childhood feelings as adults but for most of us it is impossible... the innocence was long ago lifted from our view of life. We now know the realities of living in a fallen world.
Honestly friends, there have been years I did not want to sparkle thank you very much. How dare the world expect anything but a disgruntled attitude! They obviously do not know how hard this year has been. (Insert bah humbug here!)
However, for those of us who have been saved through grace, by the Resurrection from the dead to His glorious life... if anyone should take peace and joy in the hard times it is us. Fra Giovanni reminds us we are but pilgrims walking together through this world, on our way together to an unknown country.
Except we have received glimpses in the Bible from men inspired to write by the Holy Spirit of God, sharing what has been seen and heard... just a little glimpse here and there. Just enough to provide hope. Then we are shown at the end of the Book, the glory that lays ahead for each one who puts their faith in Him. The City of God.
I have long seen the Christmas season as a little glimpse of the Glory to come. A tiny view of Heaven, where everyone will be singing praises to God and I am quite certain the City never stops sparkling. It doesn't matter that December 25th is not actually the day Jesus was born. I'll accept it as a day chosen to celebrate His Birth... and celebrate it I must.
For during this season, we celebrate the miraculous. He who was the long expected Savior of the world, Jesus our Messiah. He who would become the sacrificial lamb to take away the sins of those who would put their faith in Him. So that the relationship which was broken in Eden has been restored... a relationship with God Himself.
As for me this year, there are hardships but there is also a whole lot of grace. I am enjoying listening to Christmas music again. I almost have the tree decorated and the rooms look a little more festive than they did before this weekend. A couple Christmas gifts have been purchased, waiting to be wrapped.
I wonder sometimes if, when we choose to look for Beauty, it is like exercising our physical muscles. Does our ability to see Beauty become easier the more we flex those muscles of hope and faith? I think so. I certainly know one can get into a habit of seeing only the unlovely in people and places. God forbid that ever happens...
While Christmas can make us sadder some years, it has the potential to be the catalyst of restoring faith and hope and true Beauty in our lives. I have decided to choose Beauty... and ponder the good stuff like Jesus and coffee... not in that order necessarily.
Image: John Sloan, artist