Friday, December 25, 2015

Ut Odore Illius Perfruatur Sicut Oves

My Nativity Scene.  Photo to by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

Christmas Day has given way to Christmas Night.  I hope everyone had as a good a day as we did.  From Mass with Dad at Our Lady of Victory to dinner with him, seeing Star Wars, The Force Awakens, and dinner at Red Lantern, (Chinese food, of course), it was about as good a day as I could have.  

Christmas has been criticized, and with some justification, for having become overly commercial.  It is easy to get carried away with the materialistic nature of the holiday.  I have a link below to a story about the early history of Christmas and how some believe Christ's birth date was conveniently determined to be right around the time of certain pagan observances.  I suppose we'll never know and the Gospels are not clear guides.

Often one hears the urge to, "Keep Christ in Christmas," and to remember, "He's (Christ) the reason for the season."  I have no quarrel with that.  I do endeavor to be particularly aware of whom I am talking to and not just assume that everyone is Christian or celebrate Christmas, even in Iowa.  Yet if I know someone celebrates Christmas, I will say enthusiastically, "Merry Christmas."  

I believe Christmas can bring out the best in people.  I have a link to the story of how NORAD began tracking Santa's flight itinerary on Christmas Eve.  It's a great read and it shows that even a tough as nails "Full Bird Colonel" can get into the spirit of the season.  

As Christmas comes to a close, I am thinking about what exactly is the meaning of the season?  

Charlie Brown asked that question in the iconic Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon special. We all watched it about a week ago and I still enjoy it.  I have a link in the credits to the YouTube re-broadast of it (I presume authorized sharing as it is on YouTube's page) and here's the script of Charlie Brown's question and Linus' answer (with a cite to this script):

"Charlie Brown: I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about.
[shouting in desperation]
Charlie Brown: Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?
Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.
[moves toward the center of the stage]
Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please.
[a spotlight shines on Linus]
Linus Van Pelt: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not:"
[Linus drops his security blanket on purpose]
Linus Van Pelt: "for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
[Luke 2:8-14 KJV]
Linus Van Pelt: [Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown] That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

"...the babe wrapped in swaddling closes, lying in a manger."

Christmas is known for its many images.  Some are secular, Santa and the reindeer.  Others are religious.  One such image, perhaps the image is The Nativity Scene.  The opening photo of this blog post is of the scene that was given to me as a little boy by my neighbor on Taylor Street, Mrs. Van Severn.  I love it for its simplicity, just Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and one sheep.  

In the sources, I have some information from The Archdiocese of St. Louis about the history of The Nativity Scene.  St. Francis organized the first one in 1223.  His purpose was to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas.  I guess the commercialization of Christmas has been around longer than I thought.

The Nativity Scene is a great reminder, at least to me, of the humble nature of Christ.  Despite all the carol lyrics of him being a king and divine ruler, he was born into poverty, in a barn shared with animals.  As St. Francis wrote about Jesus' birth, “...who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.The photo below is from my church and I think it is a beautiful description of The Nativity Scene and where Christ spent his first moments of life.

The Nativity Scene at Our Lady Of Victory church.  Photo by J. Berta.

So when I think about Christmas and what its "true" meaning is, I wonder if, at is most authentic nature, is the place of Christ's birth- a manger, a barn.  The place is humble, devoid of comfort.  Yet there is something else, the smell.  

When we look at images of The Nativity Scene, it is easy to become taken in with the wonder, beauty even, of it.  After all, this is the celebration of the birth of Christ, the Messiah, if you so believe.  Even if one is not a believer, it is still a moving tribute to a young family.  However, even the most accurate Nativity Scene cannot capture what that manger must have smelled like.  

 Think about it, we're talking about a barn in the desert in ancient times.  Even if it was regularly cleaned (and I doubt "regularly"would meet our 21st Century, First World standards) it would certainly still had to have particular odor to it.   

And it was into this place, with this smell, God decreed his only son would be born.  This is about as far from materialism as one can get.

Now please do not think I am calling for a rejection of our contemporary Christmas celebrations, I am not.  I love parties, sharing laughs with friends, tasty meals with dessert, giving and receiving presents.  I put up Christmas lights and enjoy seeing others' lights displays.  I'll wear a Santa hat and my Charlie Brown Christmas tie.  I love the season and with it all the fun and comforts that go with it.  I am simply saying that for me, The Nativity Scene caused me to think about what it must have been like for Jesus and Mary and Joseph to be living in a manger, a barn, with the animals and with the smell.  

And although I will not apologize for my appreciation of the comforts of the season, I hope not to be a (total) hypocrite and realize just how much distance exists between me and those who do endure hardships, inconveniences, in pursuit of their calling, their faith, their mission. 

I'll wrap up this post with a quote from Pope Francis from Holy Thursday (March 28) 2013:  “The priest who seldom goes out of himself … misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. … This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties — instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’ This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”

The smell of sheep, that is the title of this blog post in Latin.  I don't know if it makes it sound any better and I presume the actual smell is the same.  I say presume because I cannot say.  I am not a Shepard, just a very lucky guy this Christmas day...and every day.

Be well my friends,


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