Compassionate Presence of Christ
Howard Thurman (1899 – 1981) was an American writer who has left us with powerful thoughts and insights about Christmas. In his book, "The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations," he wrote these stirring words:
"When the song of the angels is stilled/When the star in the sky is gone/ When the kings and princes are home/ When the shepherds are back with their flock/The work of Christmas begins:
- To find the lost
- To heal the broken
- To feed the hungry
- To release the prisoner
- To rebuild the nations
- To bring peace among others
- To make music in the heart."
Those of us who believe that Christmas is a holy event understand that the imperative to do these "works" comes from our belief in Jesus Christ who set this example of living by the way He lived His life. Our relationship with Him dictates that we live the same way.
There is a tricky part in all this for us, and it is this: if this service of people ceases to be an activity which is "a search for God" for us and becomes an activity only to help people to bring about a change for the better in their life, we are in big trouble. What happens if they do not respond? What happens if their lives do not improve?
Without the God connection to sustain us, we can get downhearted and frustrated when the best of our efforts do not meet with success.
When we see sad, miserable, poor people who remain sad and miserable despite our best efforts, the questions arise: why am I doing this? Why am I wasting my time helping people who will not help themselves? These are questions from good people who have tried and believe they have failed in trying to help those described by Howard Thurman.
Those of us who believe that Christmas is a holy event understand that the imperative to do these "works" comes from our belief in Jesus Christ who set this example of living by the way He lived His life>
But the failure or success of our efforts is not the point. We need go no further than the lives of the saints through the history of the Church to get the point. St. Francis of Assisi, who gave us the idea of the Christmas crib, was a poor man with no resources but inspired his followers to love God and have that life-giving relationship flow on to their relationship with other people. We may not be a St. Francis of Assisi, but the principle is valid.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta's phrase of doing "something beautiful for God" goes to the heart of the matter— we must have a good heart in what we do for Jesus Christ. People know if we don't have a good heart or if "the music in the heart" is gone.
Christmas is a holy feast when we contemplate the amazing fact that Jesus Christ was sent by God to come and live with us and change the way we look at the world. Our Christmas gift to others, but especially the people that Howard Thurman refers to, is to be the compassionate presence of Christ in our world.
Columban Fr. Gary Walker lives and works in Australia.