Our society, our culture, constantly reminds us that Christmas is around the corner. Every year we are told that the Christmas tree comes from Germany, the lights in the window is a carry over from the candles in the windows so common in Ireland, the Christmas stocking comes from England, the Christmas creche comes by way of St. Francis of Italy. All of these reminders do in their own way remind us of the meaning of Christmas and the birthday of Jesus Christ. If we are mature Catholics, we have to realize that beyond all those reminders is an essential story that God wanted us to keep in mind so that Advent would be a more sacred season.
God reminded us that he was sending his Son to share the burdens of the world with ourselves. God reminded us that he was sending us a Son who would show compassion in a world that was totally pagan. God reminded us that he would send a Son who would put himself at our service and sacrifice himself even to the death on the Cross. When you go beyond the Christmas trappings and come right down to the heart of the matter of what the season of Advent is all about, it is a definite reminder to all of us that we have to make more spiritual preparations either through prayer or meditation, or we commit the same mistake that so many other Christians are committing. We are missing the sacredness of Advent and the spirituality of Christmas.
When you go back into the history of the famous writers of the past who spoke so eloquently of Christmas, men like Alan Toynbee in his beautiful work, The Study of Civilization, thirteen volumes in all, he said without a doubt the greatest day in the history of mankind was the birthday of Jesus Christ. If you study the writing of Father Teilhard de Chardin, he said, this is the day that God has selected to Christ the world. In other words, to bring the values of his only Son into a tortured world. If you read the writings of Sigmund Freud who one day declared, atheist though he was, that if Christians really believed in the meaning of Christ they would prolong that meaning through each day of the passing year. In other words, the spirit of Christmas just would not die on Christmas Day. Christmas Day and the season of Advent have a lot to teach us. If you study the time at which Christ came into the world, families were afflicted with great diseases. Nobody ever had a long life span. Diseases were rampant all over the area in which Christ was born. Christ came into this troubled world to offer a touch of compassion. Christ, during this season of Advent, expects each one of us to offer a touch of compassion to those who are in want and need.
For many people throughout our country in view of the tragedy of September 11, and the elderly, Christmas and Advent are not happy seasons. The elderly at home and at the nursing homes that I frequent have lost a lot of their friends. They know it is the end of another year. They are quite conscious of their mortality and if anything is going to see them through the difficulties of the holidays, it is the Christlike compassion we bring to them in time of want and need. If you study the history of the first Advent, you might recall that when Jesus Christ became an adult, he gave us his philosophy and the theology of life, especially concerning the quality of love that he wanted to bring into his society. Society at his time in history was a warlike society. Human life was cheap. In fact, in the time of Herod, the time in which Christ lived, one of the common slogans was that it was better to be a member of the stables of Herod than to be a member of his family because he treated his animals better than he treated his family. This is the same Herod who wanted to kill all the innocent boys two years of age and under when the birth of Christ took place. The reason was he did not want this Christ child to threaten the kingship of Herod or take any of this glory of the kingdom of Herod away from himself.
The one quality that Christ brought with him from birth to death was the quality of personal love. When he told us many times that he did not come from heaven to earth to call us his servants, but to call us his friends, he reminded us that the quality of love he had shared with thousands all throughout his life was to be the same quality that we are to share with the people with whom we live and work and it starts at home. If there is any home that is lacking the love of Christ, it has all the trappings of Christmas trees and Christmas ornaments, if it has all the best decorations you can see from the road and has all the trappings of the Christmas season, but does not have the love that Christ wanted us to share in our own homes, then we are making a mockery of the season of Advent and the spirituality of Christmas.
There is no great mystery any longer in our hearts and in our lives concerning what Advent and Christmas should mean. It is a season of compassion, it is a season of love. Those were the two major qualities that Christ brought into our society nearly two thousand years ago. Compassion and love. Compassion is defined as love at work in a crisis. Love is to be understood as the love that Christ gave during his life that he expects us to give to others during our lives. Without a sense of compassion, without a sense of love, Advent is just another season. If we do not develop those two qualities, then we have lost the spiritual meaning of Advent. If we do not develop those two qualities, Christmas can never be spiritual and sacred as Christ intended it to be.
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