9 Dec 2012
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6) In the name …
I’m the priest here, but I’m also the chaplain at my Masonic Lodge. This past Tuesday four of us went out shopping for the Angel Fund. That’s one of the charities of the Lodge. For Christmas we sponsored several children from a local shelter for battered and abused women. We had to buy clothes for them. Sometimes these families must leave homes so quickly that they leave everything behind including clothes. So on Tuesday evening there’s four of us guys in Old Navy trying to buy children’s clothes. I think the other guys were in the same boat as me. Sharon had done all of the clothes shopping for our children in the day. It’s even come to the point where I run what I’m planning to wear by Amanda if I’m out of blacks. One of the guys, a Selectman from Hadley, had to pick out pajamas for a 12 year old girl. He said as an elected officer in a small town he had to be careful about that sort of thing. I had to get pajamas in a 3T size for a boy and a girl. For the girl I got a princess outfit, for the boy I picked out some polar or panda bear pajamas. When I finally asked one of the sales girls for help, she put the polar bear pajamas quietly back on the rack and got me some racing car PJ’s. I guess I had picked out girl’s pajamas for the boy, but the sales girl was very nice about it, and quietly put them back.
But for all of the little embarrassments or mistakes, it was a great feeling to be able to help these families who are going through so much turmoil. These are mothers and children with nowhere to go, fleeing from their homes and their marriages because they fear for their own safety right within the walls of their own houses. One 11 year old boy I was buying for requested calming music CD’s. Maybe he’ll turn into a Classical musician because I picked-out for him Bach and Debussy. But for him to ask for this kind of music speaks to a very troubled and turbulent young life. But to be able to help in some small way, at this time of the year especially, brought me a taste of Christmas spirit. I wasn’t there when the Holy Family was an outcast in Bethlehem, but I could help in a small way the outcast families of here and today. That’s the message of today’s Bethlehem candle. There are always going to be Bethlehems and outcast, and we can always do something.
Advent is about our religious preparations for Christmas. Our souls become the proverbial manger for the newborn Christ Child. We need to prepare them spiritually. But Advent is also the time when we need to hear again the message of Bethlehem. We are called upon to make this world, not only our souls, ready for Christ. Straighten the crooked paths, raise the valleys, lower the hills, smooth the rough: This is today’s Gospel message to change the world. And Luke says something that none of the other Evangelists do. He adds: “So all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Not just the righteous, but everyone – which especially in the context of Bethlehem’s manger means the outcast and the poor. As we prepare ourselves for Christmas we must contemplate the message that no one must be forgotten or ignored.
In the same reading, have you ever wondered why Luke would list all of those ancient political figures as the beginning of his account of Jesus’ ministry? It’s to tie Jesus into history. His ministry is not only of the eternal and the spiritual. It’s of history. It’s of the here and now. That’s the importance of Christmas. That’s what we are preparing ourselves to better understand. Christmas has revealed how sacred this world is and how connected we all are to one another. Jesus came “so all flesh” could see the salvation of God. And that’s why Paul tells us today in Philippians that the good work begun in Jesus will continue through the believers in Jesus. Easter promises us the next world, but Christmas challenges us to make a difference in this world.
That being said, last Sunday’s Parade Magazine ran its “Second Annual Giving Issue.” The picture on the cover is of Howard Buffett, the son of the second richest man in America, Warren Buffett. He’s doing amazing things to help feed the poor. Another corporate leader is the founder of Panera Bread. That corporation is making a dent in hunger in the United States. But the stories I enjoyed even more were of ordinary people. Maybe you read the same article I did. Denise Cerreta decided to let customers pay what they could afford at her restaurant. They could pay the suggested price, leave more or less, or even work off the bill. Her business took off. There are now 30 other restaurants in the chain. She said that what her cafes are really about is building community. Joshua Williams was in Middle School. This young boy couldn’t ignore the ones who were hungry around him. He and his mother started up a foundation that has now donated 200 tons of food to the needy. His favourite is the foundation’s backpack program that sends school kids home with meals for the weekends because when they don’t have school-supported meals they may have no meals.
Denise and Joshua are doing no less than Howard Buffett or Panera Bread. We can all do something. See Ellen after Mass about Adopt-A-Family. They’re looking for such basic necessities for Christmas it’s sad. Think about giving to the USO. Think about giving to the church so that we can do more. [St. Jude’s Hospital, Survival Center] Don’t walk past the Salvation Army kettles. No matter what we can do, we should do what we can. And the miracle of all this is that there is so much joy and satisfaction to be found in the act of charity. A guy told me the other day that he’s so happy to be at the point in life where he can give, that it’s much more satisfying to give than to receive. I believe this has something to do with the revelation that we are continuing the work begun by Christ. By doing these things we are keeping Christ real in the world and in us. That we may remain true to the Bethlehem Candle’s message of caring for “all flesh.” For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo