Christmas: A Celebration of Smallness

Christmas is a celebration of smallness. It proclaims small is beautiful… the lowly is honorable… the ordinary is extraordinary.

Just look at the major characters of the Christmas story. First, there’s Mary, a young girl (about 13 years old) from a small backwater town called Nazareth. Then there’s Joseph, her husband, a lowly carpenter. And where is Jesus born? Not in the huge city of Rome or Jerusalem, but (as the Christmas song says) in the little town of Bethlehem. And our first glimpse of “the Son of the Most High” is a squirming newborn lying in a manger. The first visitors to pay him homage are not Roman rulers or dignitaries, but a scruffy band of ordinary shepherds with their ordinary (and smelly!) sheep.

Small. Lowly. Ordinary. These are not exactly the watchwords of our day. On the contrary, ours is a world that says bigger is better, that admires immensity, that overuses prefixes such as mega, super, ultra. Ours is a world where fame and fortune, for some, are the main goals in life. Ours is a world that glorifies power and rewards audacity and even arrogance. Perhaps we need more than ever to hear this particular message of Christmas: the call to celebrate the small.

(Photo by Jeswin Thomas – Pexels)

Throughout his adult ministry, Jesus showed us how to live this way. He chose for his disciples mostly ordinary and insignificant individuals. Although he preached to all, he directs his message especially to the meek and lowly. He compares the Kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed, and he tells his followers they must become “as little children.” Finally, he says of himself, “I am meek and humble of heart.”

This appreciation of smallness and lowliness will instill in us respect for all the forms that smallness may take in our lives: inexperience, powerlessness, marginalization, vulnerability, incompleteness. And respect for “small people” in our midst: the unborn, children, the elderly, the refugee, the poor. We might ask ourselves questions such as these: How concerned am I for the children of our world? How attentive am I to their needs? How do I respond to the poor, the sick, the homeless, the abused, the physically or mentally challenged, those denied their legal rights, the imprisoned?

(Photo by Mikhail Nilov – Pexels)

Other questions to ask: How do I respond when I experience smallness and lowliness within myself? Am I patient with my human failings? When I experience my powerlessness, do I throw up my hands in despair, or do I reach out my hand for the ever-ready hand of God? Am I attentive to the ordinary? Do I appreciate the familiar, the normal? In the midst of my daily struggles, do I thank God for the beauties of my everyday life?

St. Paul not only accepted his lowliness, he boasted about it. To the Corinthians he wrote these mysterious words: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” Why? Because St. Paul heard and believed these words of Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Let us pray:

God, Source of all Love, we thank you for the gift of smallness… lowliness… and ordinariness. Help us to see them as central to the Christmas story. Give us a greater attentiveness to the blessings of everyday life: the familiar individuals we interact with every day… our commonplace surroundings… our quotidian activities… our unremarkable deeds… our normal joys and struggles. Help us to accept our own failings and weaknesses, relying on your grace alive within us. Your Son Jesus came into our world in a quiet and unassuming way. He taught us to be attentive to the Divine within our midst. This Christmas, we ask for all these graces, for we truly believe that your power and goodness are at work today within us and our entire Earth Community. Amen.

Merry Christmas to all!
May the simple joys of Christmas be with you today and throughout the year!

(Photo by Nubia Navarro – Pexels)

Did anything really speak to you in today’s reflection? If so, what? Do you know why?

What are some of the “small and ordinary” things in your daily life that you really appreciate? How do you show your appreciation?

I have two videos today: a Christmas song and a song in honor of a friend who recently passed away.

Video #1: This Christmas song, “Joseph’s Lullaby,” by MercyMe celebrates smallness in a way. This version, with the pictures of babies, reminds us that Jesus came as a real baby. The song is sung from the perspective of Joseph, the lowly carpenter who calls the child “my son.”

Video #2: This song is in memory of my friend, Father Don Cozzens, a priest of the Cleveland diocese. I knew Don for about 40 years. We shared a lot in common including the ministries of teaching, formation work, and writing. I recommend three obituaries on these websites: America Magazine (Dec. 13, 2021 issue), The New York Times, and John Carroll University where Don taught and served in many other capacities.

This song was one of Don’s favorites, Dan Fogelberg’s “The Leader of the Band.” Years ago Don told me he loved this song because it captured something of the relationship he had with his own Dad. As I listen to the song now, I think some of the lyrics capture Don himself: “a quiet man… his gentle means of sculpting souls…” And some words capture what we, his many friends, are probably saying to him today: “(you) gave me a gift I know I never can repay… (your) song is in my soul… thank you for the music and your stories of the road…” And, Don, “I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough…”

I invite you to add a comment below. We all enjoy hearing from you—no matter how small and ordinary you think your words may be!


  1. Annette Svoboda Wilson on December 20, 2021 at 7:00 am

    This is my first visit to your blog. Thank you for your inspirational words which I first encountered in Living Faith. I enjoyed and can relate to the songs you attached.

    My maiden name is the same as your last name. My grandfather immigrated from Czechoslovakia as a teenager in 1908.

    May your Christmas be blessed.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 20, 2021 at 7:43 am

      Annette, I was so excited to meet another Svoboda! My grandmother (Anna Machovec–my Dad’s mother) immigrated from Bohemia to Cleveland in 1905 when she was only 15 years old. She made the long voyage on the “Kaiser Wilhelm” with two girlfriends. She began her life in America by living with her older sister who had come here several years earlier. What courage our ancestors had!… Welcome to my blog! We’re happy to have you! Sister Melannie

  2. Donna Keogh on December 20, 2021 at 12:52 pm

    Your music choices are always like the frosting on the cake for me! The songs you have shared add immeasurably to the reflections you write. Thank you

  3. John Fuchs, S.J. on December 20, 2021 at 7:41 pm

    What a beautiful reflection and choice of music! Since Joseph doesn’t have a “speaking part” in the Gospels, it was so beautiful to hear a song attributed to him, singing a lullaby to his son, Jesus!

    You have a wonderful ministry, Sr. Melannie! I have forwarded your blog to many of my friends and those I serve as a spiritual and retreat director. Thank you!

  4. Ken Locken on December 20, 2021 at 7:48 pm

    Hello sister Melanie. Thank you for your profound thoughts on Christmas. I needed to hear this message, and I think our society needs to hear it too. God bless.

  5. Constance Horstman-Horn on December 20, 2021 at 8:35 pm

    I love the music and the blog. I look forward to reading thus every week, and I have been for Years , but this is the first time I have commented

  6. Nancy on December 20, 2021 at 8:59 pm

    Merry Christmas! Blessings always, Nancy

  7. Joni Dugan on December 20, 2021 at 10:14 pm

    Awesome Melanie! Thank you so much! The deacon at our parish asked if you belong to the same group of Sisters that i had belonged to. So I told him yes and then I told him we were in the Novitiate together and so on. And then I told him some stories that you probably would not like me to mention on this public platform. Just kidding of course. I really don’t have any stories. Anyway, he loved the particular blog and I told him to check our website. So say a prayer for him: this is his second surgery. Hopefully this one will do the trick. Merry Christmas to you. Love ya!

  8. Barbara Wilcox on December 21, 2021 at 1:55 am

    Gosh, I was so moved by this meditation and the videos. Thank you for your inspiring words and music to add to the beauty of this particular blog.
    You always do such a great job! Thank you!
    Merry Christmas and blessings on the New Year so you may continue to inspire and challenge us!

  9. John Hopkins on December 21, 2021 at 7:11 am

    Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    First, Merry Christmas to all!
    Second, thank you, Sr. Melannie! Your words give us light in this season of darkness (which, thankfully, ends today!).
    Third, a poetic reflection on “small.”

    When the leaf fell
    it said goodbye to all the forest green.
    This was months ago.
    Languidly it let go,
    this single leaf once green,
    then yellow, then brown,
    then joined by others,
    carpeting the ground.
    Look for them all on the last small hour
    of this day.
    You’ll see them: the last slant of sun
    turning them to copper gold!

    • Jane Langenecker on December 21, 2021 at 8:25 am

      Love this poem! I’m in the years where I’m going to have to choose the letting go. My prayer is to be able to do so gracefully. The thoughts of becoming a coppery carpet beneath my dear ones’ feet brings much comfort!

      • John Hopkins on December 21, 2021 at 1:15 pm

        Thank you, Jane. Merry Christmas!

    • Jean Canatsey on December 21, 2021 at 5:20 pm

      Thank you, John. So beautiful and reflective.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 22, 2021 at 7:15 am

      John, Thank you for gracing us with another one of your beautiful little poems! Melannie

  10. Dolores Leffler on December 21, 2021 at 8:50 am

    Vesele Vianoce i Stasny Novy Rok!! My parents came alone from Slovakia early 1900’s.
    Thank you for your blog!!!

  11. Kathleen Hartnett on December 21, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Thank you Sister Melannie for all your inspirational words throughout the year and especially today’s Christmas reflection on Smallness. It touched my soul and I agree with Mr Locken’s comment that the world needs to hear this too. So thank you again for sharing positivity, grace and your eloquent phrasing of God’s message to the world on the internet. I wish you condolences on the loss of your friend Fr Don and most of all peace…

  12. Susan on December 21, 2021 at 9:29 am

    Merry Christmas everyone! I love Dan Fogelberg and it was such a treat to sit by our Christmas tree and listen to this lovely song by him. Appreciation of the small things in life is one of my most valuable take always from living through the pandemic.

  13. Jean H on December 21, 2021 at 9:36 am

    Merry Christmas Sister Melannie and all!

  14. Donnamarie Risse on December 21, 2021 at 10:08 am

    Merry Christmas. Your comments so often bring me smiles, deep thought, appreciation for all God has given me and a realization of ways I can give. You are a blessing. Thank you!

  15. mary ann flannery, sc on December 21, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    Melanie: My Dad had his own dance band in Pittsburgh and became popular enough to travel
    with it in the 1930’s. He had been educated in saxophone and clarinet at what was known as the Allegheny School of Music. But World War II broke up his band taking some members who never returned home. My Dad had to get a job quickly so he became a high rise window washer in Cleveland, a city he liked from his travels. He played his music on weekends which provided a resource to help cover the educations of his seven children. Every time I hear this song, I think of my Dad, a man who had given up his cherished career and risked his life daily for us. It moves me to tears.
    I also regret the passing of Don Cozzens, a great loss to the Church. I knew him as well and cherished time with him.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 22, 2021 at 7:22 am

      Mary Ann, Your words about your dear Dad moved my soul. My Dad’s story is similar. He graduated from high school during the Depression, the oldest of six children. His Dad, a carpenter, had trouble finding work, so my Dad literally supported his family with the money he made at an auto parts store and later at Carling Brewery in Cleveland. Such selflessness… We both come from good stock, don’t we?… Thanks for writing, Mary Ann! Melannie

  16. Carole Iseli on December 21, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    “…the call to celebrate the small.” Gives me something to chew on, Sr. Melannie, as this challenging year comes to a conclusion and a new, and hopefully brighter, year lies ahead. Thank you for sharing your abundant gifts with us in so many ways.

    Christmas and New Year’s Blessings ~

  17. Jim Kantner on December 21, 2021 at 1:52 pm

    I never met Don Cozzens, but I read articles he wrote and books, and he certainly spoke “truth to power”! I am sorry for your loss of a great friend

  18. Jean Canatsey on December 21, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    I loved your topic today. So often we forget the small things. I especially enjoyed both musical selections!
    Merry Christmas!

  19. Tom Gilles on December 21, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    Yes, Melannie, We have known and walked with a genuine prophet, one who never had to shout or argue his point because he carried the Stillness of God within his soul.

    • Cecilia Fonacier on December 24, 2021 at 8:53 am

      Thank you Sr. Melannie for bringing me to this central message of Christmas.
      For two years now, the world has been filled with fear, the risks, threats and deaths due to the the vaccines, and also the rise of brave individuals and groups who speak up for the truth and what is right. Each night I pray for those who are sick, the safety of all people, most especially for the children and their future. At times it is difficult to pause from all these…yet from time to time, I could feel a nudge from the Lord reminding me of his presence all these.

  20. Joseph A. Johnson on December 26, 2021 at 8:09 pm

    Thank you, Melanie. Small is beautiful!
    My new email: [email protected]

  21. Nancy Frederico on December 27, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    Merry Christmas dear Sr. Melannie! I have enjoyed every one of your blogs and have shared them with friends and family. Wishing you a beautiful Christmas Season and look forward to all the surprises you will share with us in the New Year! Merry Christmas to all who enjoy this blog of yours!

    Nancy Frederico

  22. Nancy Frederico on December 27, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    Merry Christmas dear Sr. Melannie! I have enjoyed every one of your blogs and have shared them with friends and family. Wishing you a beautiful Christmas Season and look forward to all the surprises you will share with us in the New Year! Merry Christmas to all who enjoy this blog of yours!

  23. Nancy Frederico on December 27, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    Merry Christmas dear Sr. Melannie! I have enjoyed every one of your blogs and have shared them with friends and family. Wishing you a beautiful Christmas Season and look forward to all the surprises you will share with us in the New Year! Merry Christmas to all who enjoy this blog of yours!

    Nancy Frederico

  24. Annie on January 13, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    I’m catching up on your blogs, since I got back from holiday visiting. I love your reflections and the songs are perfect. I remember “Leader of the Band” from my youth but had forgotten about it. What a beautiful tribute Dan Fogelberg paid to his father! I saw an interview on YouTube where he was looking back on his music and said that if he could have only written one song in his life, it would be “Leader of the Band” because of what it meant to his father and to him. Dan said, “I don’t think I’ll ever be as accomplished a musician as he was, but I’ve had a different gift. It came to me in a different way. I’ve been able to reach people with these songs I write.”

    The opening lyrics can be a reminder that we all are called to follow “the Leader of the band.” We just need to keep being open to that call and pray that we will be guided in each moment, even when we don’t know the specifics of that call.

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