It was the second week of December. That especially busy season before Christmas was upon me. Besides that, the winter heavy grey skies were getting to me. I first came to Japan in 1956 from the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand). Even after all those years, while adapting to Japan in most areas, I have never really got used to cold weather at Christmas!
For so many of my youthful years Christmas was a time of sun and beach swimming. I have never ever dreamed of a white Christmas! So as the shepherd psalm puts it so vividly, my spirit was drooping.
My lifelong hobby has been woodwork. At middle school my highest marks were for a class called ‘woodwork’. (The lowest were for what was then called ‘arithmetic’). I like making things; but as a priest I have lived in aging rectories, so I tend to mend more than I make.
Recently on the internet I looked at a carpenter’s bench on Amazon with envy. All I could do was put it into the wish list. The bench was selling at €197. Is that too expensive for me? And if I did buy it, how many years, at 92, have I left?
So I went to St Joseph the carpenter asking him to guide me. Joseph had Jesus as an apprentice. Three weeks after a couple whom I had witnessed at their marriage seven years previously came to visit me. At the time of their marriage they were both in their 70s. In both cases their former partner had died. They came to tell me that their senior second marriage had given both of them a wonderful and refreshing happiness. Then they handed me an envelope saying: “Here is a gift in gratitude to God. Buy yourself a Christmas present.”
Later when I opened the envelope there was exactly €197. So St Joseph had arranged a Christmas present for the birthday of his foster child and his apprentice carpenter, Jesus. These events had the Good Shepherd reviving my drooping spirit.
As a postscript I add this. The carpenter’s bench was delivered to the door in a big parcel. The bench was in many parts to be assembled. A parishioner seeing me gaze at the many parts with a worried look said: “Let’s assemble it.” While his wife read the instructions, four of us put the bench together. We had fun doing it. So I thank the carpenters, Jesus and Joseph, for their thoughtful Christmas present.
Columban Fr. Barry Cairns is from New Zealand. He was ordained in 1955 and has spent most of his life on mission in Japan.