What Do You Think Christmas Is All About?
As my nieces and nephew grow older Christmas for us becomes less about toys and presents under the tree and more about the quality of time we get to spend together. I am tremendously enjoying watching them become adults and wonder what paths they will choose as they move into their journeys. I pray God will bless them and make them good, holy and caring individuals. I think they are well on their way.
I want to make sure the children and families in my parish have the same opportunities to grow in how they live out their faith lives, both as little ones and as adults. To that end, their parents and I came up with a Christmas project that we shared together on our last session before Christmas. I admit, I was given the idea by one of our young parishioners, who had received the idea from his father, who received it from another friend's parish. This just shows how important it is to share good ideas!
This was the project: we were creating gift bags for our homeless neighbors. A large ziploc bag filled with new socks, bottled water, tuna or chicken packets, protein bars, cookies, band aids, even a gift card for a meal or a cup of coffee. The last thing in the bag was a note from the parish saying that we cared and we were here for them.
Watching the children and their parents create the bags was a beautiful sight to behold. Parents took the time to explain the "WHY", the reason we were doing this, to their kids. The families each took a bag or two with them for over the Christmas break. They are to give the bags away when they encounter someone who needs the bag. When we get back to class in January we're going to spend some time breaking open the experience together. We have extra bags to share with our parishioners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Already families are letting me know what a powerful experience this has been to share with their children. As they give the bags away, I'm getting emails telling me how proud the children are of having a way to help someone in need. The parents are grateful for a way to talk to their children about how we as Catholics are to care for one another and treat each other with dignity. I am so proud of my parish for choosing to extend our care for others beyond the toys of the giving tree, to the very real needs of our neighbors on the street. Literally.
I've got in my mind the traditional picture on the Christmas card of the nativity, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus in a manger...and it often looks so sanitized and pure. This morning on NPR there was a story on the plight of Christian refugees in Syria and other hot spots in the Middle East. It occurs to me that the plight of these refugees is the same story that Mary and Joseph were living out...not that they were refugees, but they were definitely a family struggling to survive as they were forced to travel quite a distance to fulfill some obligation demanded from a political power. Why have I never thought deeply about this before? This story of Christmas isn't at all pretty. And yet the story of Christmas is the most beautiful of all stories, because in the midst of such poverty and deprivation, God comes to be one of us, one with us in our utter, simple, broken humanity. How unbelievable profound.
So we will invite families tonight and tomorrow, to take a Christmas gift bag to share with a street person that they might run across in the next week or two. We live in NYC, chances are they won't get very far before they find someone in need. We pray that the simple act of sharing a gift and a brief conversation with someone will help us all remember to look into the eyes of a stranger and find Jesus there.
We know Christmas reminds us of the birth of that most special baby, and it calls us to think about when our Savior will come again. This year, let us also remember that Christmas calls us, demands that we see Jesus alive and begging to be recognized in the very eyes and hearts of the people we meet in our every day lives. Let us remember we are called to treat each and every person with the utmost of dignity they deserve simply because they too are sons and daughters of our God.
And when we can do that then there may actually be peace on earth. Merry Christmas.