By: Father James E. Shea, C.Ss.R.
Dear Parishioners and Friends,
Many years ago a few zealous Christians decided to place a creche in the lobby of the Capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida. When the American Civil Liberties Union got wind of the creche in the building, they immediately protested. To preserve harmony, peace and the respect of all religions, the officials removed the creche.
A reporter from the Tallahassee Democrat Newspaper contacted one of the State Representatives for her opinion. She said, “I am very disappointed that the creche had to be removed. It was the first time we had three wise men in the Capitol building.”
It is believed that St. Francis of Assissi introduced the creche to the Christmas season. Francis wanted the people of Assisi to deepen their devotion to the Christ Child. In 1223 Francis had a local farmer build a miniature manger. He filled it with straw. Wood carvers created the figures of Jesus, Mary, an ox, an ass, the shepherds and the three kings. The creche became an annual custom. The custom spread through Europe. Then, the Germans brought the custom to the U.S.
It was during World War II when Ann, along with her two little sons, went to live with her parents in Wyoming. Her husband was overseas in the Air Force. They were anxiously waiting for his return home for Christmas.
The days were passing quickly. Christmas was drawing nearer. Ann, the two boys and their grandparents were busy preparing for the holidays. They wanted the two young boys to have a memorable Christmas. As a family they picked out a lovely spruce tree. They decorated it with colorful lights. They bought presents and placed them under the tree. Their hearts were filled with the joy of the season.
But only for a time. Just a week before Christmas, a dreadful message arrived. Daddy will not be coming home this Christmas. Not only this Christmas, but for all Christmases to come. Daddy had been killed in action.
After hearing the news, Ann went to her room. She closed the door and wept. Grandpa and grandma talked quietly, wondering what they could do. The two little boys sat in the living room, trying to comprehend the situation. Finally, grandpa and grandma decided to remove the lights, the decorations and the glitter. They took down the tree and set it outside. The joy reflected in the tree has been suppressed with sorrow in this home.
Later, Ann came out of her room. She saw the empty space where the tree had been. “Why, Mother?” she asked, “Why did you take the tree down?”
“Daddy and I took it down and put it outside. It seemed so out of place. The tree fills the house with joy. But the joy has disappeared when we heard of your husband’s death. Your heart is broken.”
“Oh, but mother, let’s bring it back in. Christmas was made for such times as these. A child is born unto us. The Angels sing Glory to God in the highest and on earth. Peace on earth to people good will. The shepherds rush down the mountain to visit the new born babe. The Wise men bring gifts. Mom and Dad, it is true that my heart is heavy with sorrow. This is Christmas. This is a time for joy. It is a time when Christ comes to us. So, let’s wrap our hearts in the joy which God gives to our loved ones who die with the Lord.”
Christmas is a time when memories return. We remember the loved ones of Christmas’ past. We remember those who were with us last Christmas but will not be with us this Christmas. We remember the good times. With the loss of loved ones, in death, in separation or in divorce, a heavy weight hangs from our hearts. Sadness has replaced that joy.
But Christmas was made for such times as these. For a Child is born unto us. God has come to live with us. Christ has become a human like us. He has taken on the pain and suffering of humanity. He has also filled our hearts with hope and happiness. Through Christ the blind see, the deaf hear, the crippled walk, dead people rise and the Good News is preached to them. Christ has reached deep into our hearts to lift us from the depths of sorrow to the heights of eternal joy. Christ our thoughts to eternal life.
A certain king had a dream. In his dream he saw a huge pair of scales held in the hand of Justice. On one side of the scales was a pile of pure gold, silver and jewels, – all symbols of material power. On the other side was a nest of straw.
The gold, silver and jewels touched the earth while the nest of straw rose high in the sky. Then a woman from the sky, with a baby in her arms, placed the infant in the nest of straw. The scales immediately began to move until the baby in the the nest touched the earth and the gold, silver and jewels brushed past the clouds in the sky.
Carl Sandburg knew how babies can tip the scales. He wrote, “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on. Never will a time come when the most marvelous recent invention is as marvelous as a newborn baby.
As faith filled people, burdened with sorrows and pains, we rejoice with the shepherds and sing with the angels – “Glory to God in the Highest.”
A blessed and merry Christmas to all.
Fr. Jim Shea, C.Ss.R.