Sunday, December 18, 2016

December 18, 2016
Fourth Sunday in Advent
There exists a fifteenth-century painting by noted Italian artist Ghirlandaio. It depicts a beautiful manger scene on that silent and holy night so long ago. However, at a closer look, it is not your typical view of the scene most of us have come to know as the manger scene.
Mary and the baby Jesus are the most prominent figures in the painting. The Christ child is lying on a bed of straw, with the radiant light of the Bethlehem star shinning down upon Him. Mary is kneeling behind Him. She is wearing a beautiful blue robe, her hands are clasped in a gesture of prayer, and her face is the picture of gratitude, serenity and adoration.
To the right are the shepherds. One of the shepherds is holding a lamb tenderly to his chest, anticipating, undoubtedly, Jesus’ role as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. Over to the left, some townspeople are coming up a road from the near-by city, obviously coming to the manger to worship the newborn King.
In the background are the animals; an ox, a donkey, a goat, a lamb. But what really should catch our eyes is Joseph. Now keep in mind that the shepherds are on one side, Mary and the Christ child are in the foreground, the townspeople are coming up from the left side and the animals are scattered all around. Everyone in the painting is looking at the baby Jesus; everyone except Joseph.
Joseph is in the background. He is looking up into heaven with this quizzical look on his face, and he is scratching his head! I somehow imagine that scratching your head in those days meant about the same as it does today. It expresses bewilderment. A sense of wondering what is going on.
The great thing about Joseph is that even though he didn’t understand all of what was going on at that first Christmas, he nevertheless accepted it and celebrated it. Even though he was bewildered by it all, he still trusted God and embraced Christmas. He welcomed the Christ child into his life with open arms.
So can we. So should we. We are so much like Joseph. We can’t possibly comprehend the full meaning of Christmas. Christmas comes to us wrapped in divine mystery, wonder and awe. We can’t master the fullness of Christmas in a ten step program or even a few days. But we don’t have to. Like Joseph, all we need to do is embrace Christmas, and celebrate Christmas by welcoming the Christ child into our lives with open arms.
I once came across a fascinating article about the origin of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Now, I have come across a couple variations of the hidden meaning, but this one struck a chord with me. According to the article, that popular song has a hidden meaning. It was written during a time of persecution to help children learn and remember the faith. The people were not permitted to practice their faith openly, so the song was designed to have two meanings; a surface meaning, and another, a hidden meaning known only to the people of the faith. As you may remember, the song refers to gifts “my true love gave to me”. They were taught that the phrase “my true love gave to me” symbolized God and His love for us. So, let us examine those for a moment.
~ The Partridge in the Pear Tree: Christ’s death on the cross.
~ Two Turtle Doves: The Old and New Testaments.
~ Three French Hens: Faith, Hope, and Love.
~ Four Calling Birds: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four Gospels.
~ Five Golden Rings: The Torah, the first five books of the Bible.
~ Six Geese a-laying: The Six days of Creation.
~ Seven Swans a-swimming: Seven gifts from the Holy Spirit.
~ Eight Maids a-milking: The eight Beatitudes.
~ Nine Ladies Dancing: The nine Fruits of the Spirit.
~ Ten Lords a-leaping: The Ten Commandments.
~ Eleven Pipers piping: The eleven Faithful Disciples.
~ Twelve Drummers drumming: The twelve Points of Belief in the Apostles’ Creed.
I have no idea how accurate this bit of trivia is, however, as I said, I have seen a couple variations of this which leads me to believe that this is factual for the most part. Further, true or not, it does a make a point. And that point is that there is frequently a deeper meaning to mysterious things such as these. This is true of Christmas too. And even though our minds simply are not big enough to fully comprehend the fullness of what it means to say. The beginning words from the Gospel according to John, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, force us to stretch our minds, expand our souls and open our hearts to the deeper meanings of Christmas. The Word became flesh …, just what that mean?
So, let us ponder on this a bit and attempt to take a look at Christmas. Just what in the world is Christmas all about? So, so many things. Christmas is about so many things that defy description, so many things too big for words. But, for today, as we have for the past three Sundays by making us ponder three things, let us examine three basic things that we get our minds to grasp; three ways of explaining what Christmas is about.
First, Christmas is a reminder that God is with us no matter what. Let’s use an illustration; many of you know how I love to use illustrations.
Sometime back, a woman wrote one of those Christmas letters, the kind that brings you up-to-date on what’s happening in the family. I am sure you know what I mean; they have become a little more common place among folks over the years. I get a few each year. The letter was the first Christmas since her husband died, and she wrote about it. She knew her friends would want to know how she was getting along. She was straightforward and honest about it all.
In her letter, she talked openly about the pain, the sorrow, the loneliness, and how tough it had been. Then she said this: “Now, I wonder about many things. I wonder, how can it be that he who is gone somehow continues to live and minister to me and to the children? I wonder, how it is that in the midst of heartache I have found God and the power to keep on going? I wonder, how it is that as a result of the tragedy, old friendships are deepened and new friendships are formed?
The woman ended the letter by saying that it’s the mystery of Christmas that holds the answer. “Christmas”, she wrote, “is the promise that God can be trusted to meet all of our needs – to meet our needs in ways we would never imagine.” The last words of the letter are powerful, so listen closely: “Some say that this first Christmas without my husband will be very painful. Probably it will be. But I know this: Without Christmas, my life would be impossible.” “Without Christmas, my life would be impossible”, she says.
That’s the kind of faith Christmas is all about. Christmas reconnects us to the Power Source. The message of Christmas is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” in every circumstance of life and even indeed beyond this life. God is with us, and God is for us. That is the Christmas “good news of great joy”. That is our faith, and that’s what Christmas is all about.
Second, Christmas is the reminder that God will never desert us.
In recent years, the poem “Footprints in the Sand” has become well known and much loved. Sometimes when I feel down, or a little blah, or just need some reassurance, I go back and read it again. It restores my strength and gives me confident hope. The poem tells of a person who has a dream one night about walking with God on the beach. We can relate to that. We live on the coast. The dreamer looks back over where they were walking and sees two sets of footprints in the sand, but then the dreamer notices that in the toughest, most difficult times of his life, there is just a single set of footprints. The dreamer asked God, “How could you leave me in the worst times of my life?” and God answers, “My Son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you!” As some of you know, those words are the words I have inserted in my Bishop’s Coat of Arms in Latin. “ was then I carried you.” (Is eram tunc ut Portavi vos.)
This is the message of Christmas! And once again, it is one word, Emmanuel. God realizes that we need help, that we need someone to carry us, and He sends a Savior. And in so doing, God gives us the Christmas gift of Hope, the Christmas gift of His presence, the Christmas promise that He will never desert us or forsake us.
We look around us and what do we see? A world in turmoil and unrest. Wars are going on all over. Discrimination and hatred abound. One could ask, “Is there any hope?” The answer of Christmas to that question is a resounding yes, because God is with us, and He will not desert us.
Third, Christmas is the reminder that God is love, and that God wants us to be loving.
Some time back, I came across what was referred to as the Orange Story. The story takes place during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Eleven little boys were living in an orphanage. They were very poor. The highlight of their lives came each year at Christmas Eve. After their dinner in the orphanage cafeteria, they would have a Christmas Party. They would sing some carols, and then each of the eleven boys would receive an orange. That’s all they would get for Christmas. No toys, no clothes, no candy. Just a single orange. But the little boys were so grateful. Each one would peel his orange carefully and eat one slice a day to make it last longer.
But one year on Christmas Eve, one little boy named Tommy broke one of the orphanage rules. The orphanage director said to him, “Tommy, you have broken one of our rules, and you must be disciplined. I hate to do it, but you have to learn, so your punishment is that you can’t come to the Christmas Party this year, and you won’t get an orange. Go to your room immediately, and stay there until morning.”
Tommy was crushed. He was so disappointed, but he obeyed. He went to his room alone. He could hear the sounds of the Christmas party. He could hear them singing; he could hear his friends cheer as the oranges were passed around. Tommy was absolutely heartsick. This was the lowest, darkest, and worst moment of his life. He had trouble going to sleep at first, but finally sleep came.
When Tommy woke up the next morning, he sat on the edge of his bed rubbing his eyes and thinking, “This is going to be the most horrible Christmas ever.” But then he saw it. There it was, on the bedside table; a makeshift orange. An orange with no peel. Ten individual slices of orange put together to make an orange for him. There was a note underneath it that read, “Merry Christmas, Tommy”. It was signed by all ten of his friends in orphanage. It took a moment for it all to sink in, but finally Tommy figured it out. Each one of his little buddies had donated one slice of their orange to make an orange for him, and what had started out to be Tommy’s worst Christmas suddenly became his best Christmas ever. Sacrificial love turned it around for Tommy, and that’s what Christmas is all about.
Now, where do you suppose those little boys learned to share like that? Where did they learn to give sacrificially like that? Where did they learn to redeem a situation creatively like that? Where did they learn to love like that? We all know. It was learned from the Christmas Story. They learned it from the Christmas Carols. But most of all, they learned it from the Christ Child, this One who came to give His life sacrificially for you and me.
Now let me ask some questions for you to ponder. Can you love like that? Can you love sacrificially like that? Can you? Are you ready to share God’s love and hospitality with others? How are you making the birth of the Christ Child the central focus of your Christmas celebration? One poet put it this way: “For Christ is born and born again, when His love lives in the hearts of men”.
One week from today will be the most special day of the year. Take time to enjoy this beautiful season of the year. This Christmas is another gift from God to you. When we celebrate the good news that God is with us come what may, that God will never desert us, and that God is love and wants us to be loving, then we have Christmas; a Christmas that will last all year long. For this last week in Advent, prepare for God’s love sent to you in the Christ child.
Let us pray.
Father God, thank you for leading us through Advent and preparing us for a more meaningful and joyous Christmas. May we celebrate the birth of Jesus in our hearts and remember why Christ came to earth. Thank you for loving us and for always being with us. May we share Your loving goodness with others, this coming Christmas and throughout the year.
Help us as we prepare any final preparations we have this week to include some time in preparing for the birth of Christ. Help us to share Your love and hospitality with others. Help us to make the birth of the Christ child the central focus of our Christmas celebrations. Help us to take time to enjoy this beautiful season of the year. And help us to realize Christmas is another gift from You to us. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +
+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.
LikeShow more reactions

No comments:

Post a Comment