By Fr. Apolinar Samboni
Christmas seems full of ironies. Municipalities tinsel their streets, stores scream seasonal songs, but with nary a word about Christ. Movies breathlessly ascribe some meaning to the season. But their flood of abstractions merely melt our hearts into indifference, leaving us wondering what should make this time particularly more about peace on earth and good will towards men. Finally, though we begin the season well before December, we rarely make time to prepare the way of the Lord.
However, one irony remains the foundation of this time of year. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” Thus, the Catholic Church has prescribed a time of preparation to make room in every heart for our Lord who found no room at the inn all those years ago.
Beginning four weeks before each Christmas, Advent commemorates Christ’s first coming into the world and anticipates His second. During this time, Catholics begin their new liturgical season and light candles each Sunday—not unlike the proverbial bridesmaids awaiting the bridegroom who warned: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mat. 25:13). Individually, the candles represent hope, peace, joy, and love. Violet, representing penance and hope, characterizes the first, second and fourth Sundays, while rose, representing joy, characterizes the third.
During this time, we remember that Christ is not just coming in the form of an easily confined doll to our table or as an inflatable ornament on our lawn. Rather, we recall another irony of this season: that the real Christ will come when we least expect Him. And yet we do know what He will do. He will ask what we have done with the hungry, the strangers, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned and say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mat. 25:40).
by G.K. Chesterton
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable nearby,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.
For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.
A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough, and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.