The key of David

The Doll and a White Rose, attributed to V.A. Bailey, is a moving story which reminds us that the ways God comes to us set us free from the things that ransom us, and can be very unpredictable.

This reflection is part of Rev Dr Richard Leonard SJ’s series on the season of Advent. 

I love the great Advent hymn, O come, O come, Emmanuel. The origins of the text are disputed. They come from a hymn, Veni, veni Emmanuel, which is either from the 8th or 12th century. The origin of the music is not disputed. It was written in 1850 by John Mason Neale, a priest of the Church of England. He came across the text that year, translated it, and adapted a 15th century French Franciscan chant to suit the text. In English, this hymn has become an Advent favourite.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel

that mourns in lonely exile here

until the Son of God appear. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

shall come to thee, O Israel!

Advent is all about announcing that “God is with us.” Sometimes, however, that can all be a bit too otherworldly, that the Emmanuel we are singing about is only about God visiting us from on high. That’s true, but it is equally true that God is with us from within.

The Doll and a White Rose, attributed to V.A. Bailey, is a moving story which reminds us that the ways God comes to us set us free from the things that ransom us, and can be very unpredictable:

I hurried into the shop to grab some last-minute Christmas gifts. I looked at all the people and grumbled to myself. I would be in here forever. I hurried to the toy department and wondered if the grandkids would even play with my gifts.

At the counter, my eye caught a little boy holding a doll next to me. He kept touching her hair and he held her so gently. I watched him turn and ask, “Aunty Jane, are you sure I don’t have enough money?” Gently, the woman replied, “Emily doesn’t need a doll, David.” The woman went to another aisle

The boy continued to hold the doll. David looked so sad that I couldn’t resist asking who the doll was for. “My sister wanted it so badly for Christmas.” I told him that maybe Santa was going to bring it. He said “No, Santa can’t go where my sister is… I have to give the doll to Mommy to take to her.” I asked him where his sister was.  He looked at me with tear-filled eyes, “She has gone to be with Jesus and Daddy says that Mommy may have to go be with both of them soon too.” My heart nearly stopped beating. David went on, “I told Daddy to make sure Mommy goes nowhere until I got back from the store. I want Mommy to take this doll to Emily.”

While he wasn’t looking I reached into my purse and pulled out some cash. “David, how about we count that money again?” He grew excited, “I asked Jesus to give me enough money. I just know I have enough.” I slipped my money in with his and we began to count it. He looked up from the count and exclaimed, “Jesus has given me enough money for Emily’s doll.”

In a few minutes his aunty came back and I wheeled my cart away. I could not keep from thinking about the little boy as I finished my shopping in a totally different spirit from when I had started.

On the way home I remembered a story in the newspaper several days earlier about a drunk driver hitting a car and killing a little girl and that the mother was left on life support. Two days before Christmas I read in the paper where the family had turned the machine off. The day before Christmas there was a funeral notice saying that a Requiem Mass would be celebrated on St Stephen’s Day for Julia Norris and her daughter Emily. Michael was their husband and father, and their son and brother was David.[1]

As I gathered with my family in front of an overblown meal, which none of us could finish, holding expensive gifts we didn’t need, and drinking more alcohol than was necessary, I thought, “We’ve lost the plot with Christmas.” God-with-us arrives as a simple child in need of love, and in the honour of that day we spend too much money, eat too much food, and get drunk.

I left the table, went to my desk and wrote a card for each member of my family. I told them what I’d never been able to say before: “I want you to know I love you.”

When they read those cards, my family thought I was losing it, but through David and that doll, God visited me in the last week of Advent, and Christmas will never be the same again.

[1] Adapted from “The Doll and a White Rose” by V.A. Bailey. Source Unknown


Originally prepared for ‘A Silver Lining’ from the Parish of Our Lady of the Way, North Sydney.

Rev Dr Richard Leonard SJ is the author of ‘What are we waiting for? Reflections for Advent and Christmas’