Second Sunday Of Advent
One of the most famous lines of Charles Dickens is: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Christmas for some this year is the best and the worse. For some this year is the best because our economy is thriving. God has truly blessed America.
However, for others, this Christmas, will be in the language of Charles Dickens, the worst of times. We still have homeless, aids victims, drug problems, the elderly who have no one. This Christmas, indeed, for them is the worst of times.
Over the centuries with a sense of fantasy, magic and nostalgia, most of us have considered their first Christmas so much happier than ours of today. But in reality, it was not.
Just think of the first Christmas scene. A young mother by the name of Mary is forced to have her only child in a stable, a cold stable, surrounded by animals - shepherds who were unclean and smelly. Shepherds also knew nothing of her desire for privacy, simply because there was no room in the inn. The first family was a homeless family. The Christ child had to be rushed to Egypt for the sake of his life. The Holy Innocents, about thirty infants, were killed because a jealous King did not want to be threatened by one who was called a king. Joseph, out of work, his family forced to live in a country that was bigoted and anti-semetic. So for the first family and for many of today's families, Christmas was not the best of times.
From that first family with all the pain and adversity they went through, from that first family that experienced hardship and suffering on that first Christmas, came forth a quality that has helped make the world a better place. It is the quality of love as taught by Christ in his life. His concept of love, his practice of love (even amidst the worst of times), has revolutionized civilizations, cultures, countries, your family and mine.
This was the same Christ who taught us to forgive seventy times seven times. The same Christ who said you must love one another as I have loved you. This is the same Christ who said to forgive those who trespass against you. The same Christ who said, Father, forgive them....
This is the love that we have seen in our grandparents and parents and friends all throughout our lives and through this season. This love brought forth into the world a Saint Augustine, a Saint Thomas, a Mother Teresa. Their work on this earth was to be missionaries of love. AA meetings show this love.
This quality of love we know historically has transformed civilizations and cultures. Think of this covering the homeless of our day at Grand Central or Penn Station. Imagine how their lives would be transformed if they, in this year of 1998, experienced the same love of Christ that the homeless experienced in the time of Christ. Think of the lonely elderly people in our society, if they could experience the love of Christ through us, what a change would take place.
You can have all the fantasies about Christmas such as the starry night, the stable, the wise men, but the harsh reality is still the same. It is a story of a family that experienced homelessness, unemployment, fear, bigotry and hatred and during this adversity taught us about the importance of loving one another.
Albert Camus has wonderful line that applies to this story. In the midst of winter I found an invincible summer. Translated and applied to Christ, it means that in great adversity from the crib to the cross Christ taught us that the lives of others will only get better when we love one another as he has loved us.
If this lesson of love is to be supplemented by each one of us it means no matter what adversity you are experiencing you have to bring the teaching of Christ into your home. You have to become a missionary of love right at home. It means you have to forgive the persons who are cross to you. It means you even have to forgive God who brought the cross into your life. There can be no love in your heart if there is still one person you have not forgiven.
The lesson of love must also be shown outside the home by your being a missionary of love outside the home. Paul Claudel, the beautiful French writer, in talking and writing about our being missionaries of love, once wrote since the birth of Christ in a stable each one has a vocation to love one another as he has loved us. He wrote, "there is not one of my brothers I can do without. In the heart of the nearest miser, the most spoiled prostitute, the most miserable drunkard, there is an immortal soul that must be touched by the love of Christ. I am a missionary of love to that person. There are many in this world living in darkness. I must become Christ to them. I hear them speaking when I speak. I hear them weeping when I go down on my knees. Just as there are many souls on earth, who need the love of Christ and it is my mission to bring that love to them."
Almost every Christmas has its share of adversity and sadness. The first Christmas was no different. But from this Christmas scene came the story of God's love for man.
If you go back into the latter part of the 19th century, you might recall that in London, England, there was a mental hospital called the house of Bethlehem. Because the treatment of the mentally sick was so primitive, chaos reigned constantly. So the hospital known as the house of Bethlehem became known as the house of Bedlam and that is the origin of the word Bedlam. For you, for all of us, the real meaning of Christmas can be summed up in either the word Bethlehem or Bedlam.
It all depends on one word, the word love. Our Christmas prayer for all of you is, may the love of Christ be always in your hearts and shared with others.
I will hear what God proclaims;
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