“I proclaim to you good news of great joy: today, a Savior is born for us, Christ the Lord.” Luke 2: 10-11.
Joy and good news are much-needed gifts, especially in 2020. Already I see signs of welcome for the year 2021, perhaps a sigh of relief, and readiness to begin things anew.
One image comes from our reading of Luke’s account of the Nativity about Bethlehem’s inn, and a nameless innkeeper who has no place for Mary, Joseph, and their newborn. The gospel reminds us that “she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manager.” Strangers in Bethlehem, the Holy Family, had no secure place to stay.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about women, men, and children without housing, and sometimes living on the streets of our towns and cities. Even how insensitive we can be to systemic issues of poverty such as the eviction of families, especially at Christmas and in this time of Covid-19.
Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted,” the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, reports about those living in the fragile sector of food insecurity and inadequate housing in Milwaukee. It is a cautionary tale for all citizens.
Reading Chapter 8, “Christmas in Room 400,” begins with a simple declarative sentence, “Sherrena decided to evict Arleen.” Arleen, a single mother of two children, had fallen $870 behind in rent because of welfare sanctions and funeral expenses for her sister. December 23 was the last court-date, in Room 400, Milwaukee County Small Claims Court. One heartbreaking story among so many.
The proclaiming “good news of great joy” in 2020 may have its limits. One insight for us comes from Saint John’s gospel for Christmas During the Day. Here the evangelist tells us: “From his abundance, we have all received, grace in the place of grace.” (John 1:16)
Last month, I spent time in Santa Monica while my video crew and I filmed an episode of “Sunday to Sunday.” First hand, I saw grace in the pastoral and social witness of volunteers at Saint Monica’s Catholic Community. They have placed their abundance at the service of those families and individuals in need. Each year, the parish Thanksgiving dinner and clothing drive are so big-hearted — over a thousand people feeding on a traditional dinner and offerings of new clothing.
However, the 2020 version of the charity event on Wednesday before Thanksgiving had a slight twist. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the need for masks, and the issue of medical testing, fewer people came through the gates of the Church parking lot. Instead of the 1,000 or more people of previous years, this situation resulted in 800 coming for dinner and the donated winter clothing, blankets, and sleeping bags.
Naturally, the clothing could be stored, but those leftover turkey dinners, two-hundred pre-packaged dinners, were a problem in need of a solution.
After repeated telephone calls to local food banks, Felipe Sanchez, the parish administrator, found no takers. All the large freezers at food banks were filled, and most of the other Thanksgiving charity events were over. What to do?
On Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day, while driving down Santa Monica Boulevard, Felipe noticed a sign announcing that the Metropolis Church on Arizona Avenue was having a Thanksgiving Day Outreach. He telephoned the church office and left a message on voice mail, asking whether their community might be able to take the pre-packaged dinners.
At the same time, the church-members were conducting their Thanksgiving worship-service and offered a powerful prayer for more food donations because they had run short of Thanksgiving dinners.
Grace and truth met in Jesus Christ that Thanksgiving in Santa Monica. Two-hundred more people came to the table of the Lord at the Metropolis Church. Recall the “good news of great joy” because from his abundance we have all received.
Here’s a brief preview of our Sunday to Sunday documentary on the Saint Monica Catholic Community.
On Christmas, we must be reminded of the Holy Family so in need of assistance at the inn’s locked doors. We must serve those on the fragile sectors of life and open our doors and hearts to those in need.
Several years ago, I received a Christmas card from my dear friend and scripture professor, Monsignor James Turro.
About Christmas, he makes this relevant point:
Long years ago in Wales, it was a custom to unlock the gates and doors to one’s home on Christmas Eve. This was done to give the Holy Family welcoming access to one’s home.
Behind the folksy piety has a deep truth. Christ has indeed come to us on earth, bringing with him hope and comfort, but we must make an effort to admit him into our lives. His coming is like a crisp knock on the door — which demands to be answered.
A long time ago, this was very pointedly remarked by a 17th-century Franciscan mystic: though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born and not within yourself, your soul will be forlorn.
So again, listen to the words of the angel: “I proclaim the good news of great joy: today, a Savior is born for us, Christ the Lord.”
Merry Christmas, and let us welcome in the year of our Lord, 2021.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA
Matthew Desmond’s “Christmas in Room 400,” was published as an essay in the New Yorker in 2016, go to https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/08/forced-out
More recently, Ted Koppel, Special Contributor for CBS Sunday Morning followed up with a report on the “Looming Eviction Crisis.” Koppel interviews Matthew Desmond, a Princeton Unversity sociologist, and provides a resource page on the housing crisis.
It’s the Christmas and New Year’s holiday in California, and with most of the state under Covid-19 lockdown.
Time for a little music, please! Here are three musicians whose YouTube piano recitals have inspired me.
Francesco Parrino is a youthful Northern Italian whose keyboard technique has few equals. Notice his left pinky figure is in a caste but makes little difference in this rendition of “O Holy Night” at the Steinway Grand piano.
Star of the London stage, Jamie Parker is gifted as a Shakesperian actor, singer, and piano man. More recently, he appeared as Harry Potter in the London and New York productions of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” Along with actor/host James Cordon, Parker played in the original production of Alan Bennett’s “History Boys,” where he played Scripps. If you are entering 2021 and in need of a cheerful pick-me-up, listen to this:
Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine wrote “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” during World War II for Judy Garland in the film musical “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Jon Batiste of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” brings timely resonance to this Christmas classic.