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Commentary: Seeking joy amid the holiday bustle

By Marybeth Hagan Sometimes it's a challenge to see the wonder of Christmas while working in retail during the holiday season. Other times, the yuletide's true spirit shines through the shopping frenzy.

By Marybeth Hagan

Sometimes it's a challenge to see the wonder of Christmas while working in retail during the holiday season. Other times, the yuletide's true spirit shines through the shopping frenzy.

During one of my recent stints on the cash register at the book store where I'm employed, two young girls approached and politely inquired about the cost of a little green book with a smiling monkey on the cover. Clearly, it was for a baby or a toddler.

Next they asked about gift-wrapping. There's a fee for gift bags at the store, with all proceeds going to a charity. So after I explained that practice, a co-worker helped the youngsters to calculate total costs. Then off the young ladies went to count the many coins they carried in three clear, plastic sandwich bags.

When the children returned to the register, they reported that the money they had saved and pooled was enough to purchase both the book and a gift bag. The pair chose a blue bag. As the girls placed the book, a few one dollar bills and three bags filled with quarters, dimes, and pennies - lots of pennies - on the counter, a line began to form behind them.

'Tis the season that requires hustle while working the register. This was not the time to chat with the young customers as I would during slower days. So I did not learn for whom the little book was so carefully chosen. Counting the girls' coins kept me busy while another co-worker prepared their gift bag. But I could feel the children's excitement throughout the time-consuming process and their joy as they thanked us before exiting the store.

That mood changed rapidly when a furious customer, who was behind the girls in line, let her displeasure about their lengthy transaction be known upon her arrival at the counter.

I was speechless.

How could this woman miss the beauty of the scene that occurred right before her eyes?

Those young girls radiated Christmas spirit. Rather than spending their savings on themselves, these children chose to buy something special for a cherished baby. The girls' present was packaged in more than a cute blue bag with yellow tissue paper sprouting out of it. Like the source of the sacred Christmas gift that keeps on giving, it was wrapped in sacrificial love.

Jesus Christ personifies sacrificial love for those of us who celebrate Christmas in the faith-based sense. In commemorating the Nativity - the story of Jesus' birth to a young Jewish couple faced with an extraordinary unplanned pregnancy - this holiday offers hope. For ours is a deeply held belief that the Son of God became man to give us the gift of eternal salvation via his life, violent death, and resurrection.

We don't "cling" to our religion as President Obama once said about small-town Pennsylvanians and Midwesterners who were frustrated with job losses. We treasure our faith.

Our belief that the best is yet to come in the next life helps us to see triviality in this life's aggravations, like being stuck waiting in a line. Sure, we grow impatient, as that customer did. But since we answer to the Lord, we know better. While we do not always succeed, we try to be our better selves. Because our better selves do not demonize people who inconvenience us, or those with whom we disagree, as tempting as that might be.

We try to love one another as Jesus preached and practiced throughout his life on Earth. This higher love helps us to rise above disappointments that are bound to happen here. Those efforts lead us to joy.

If someone hurts us, we try to be like Jesus and forgive him or her. Since none of us are perfect, we must work at it. The more we work at it, the more we're able to see the good in people and find peace amid life's stresses and difficulties, minor and major.

The phrase "Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men" seems everywhere at Christmastime. It's an expression drawn from a Bible verse that has a lot more to it in content and meaning.

As shepherds watched over their sheep in the fields, an angel appeared and told them about the birth of the savior Jesus in Bethlehem. Then "a multitude" of angels filled the heavens and declared, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14).

More God on our shopping lists just might be the key to keeping Christmastime sanity.

Marybeth Hagan is a writer in Merion Station.