Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas: A Love Story

I have been rummaging around the 'net, reading various pieces about Christmas, enjoying all the anecdotes and rememberances of both Christmas past and present.  We all know the basic story of how Christmas came to be, and we understand the importance of celebrating.

Yet, when I came across this, I felt different, somehow more aware, and thankful for all I have experienced, and how important we are to each other. 

Our experiences, life, family and country dictate individual memories, but one thing stands out: the power of love is above all.

Merry Christmas to all, may God bless the human race.

From The Salem(MA) News, Dec 24 by Ethan Forman

BEVERLY — A carpenter and his pregnant bride-to-be return home to register for the census, but because the local inn is full, the couple must take refuge in a stable.
In this humble setting, the son of God is born. He is then swaddled in clothes and placed in a manger, a trough used to feed animals.

It's the story of Christmas, and it will be told and retold at countless churches around the world tonight. As North Shore clergy get ready to deliver their Christmas Eve sermons, each will have a different take on the story, with the aim of bringing home to worshippers the true meaning of Christmas.

For the Rev. Dr. Craig Collemer at First Baptist Church in Beverly, the story of Christmas is the greatest love story ever told. There's infatuation. There's risk taking. There's intrigue, he says.

As Collemer prepares his final Christmas Eve sermon after 40 years in the ministry, he wants to make sure the 400 or so coming out for the 11 p.m. candlelight service get the message that Christmas is indeed a love story.

"The love God demonstrated through that event in Bethlehem still carries today," Collemer said. It's a love that is unconditional and all-inclusive, he said.

The Rev. John Sheridan said he is especially blessed this Christmas Eve because he oversees both St. James Parish, a Catholic church on Federal Street in Salem, and St. Thomas the Apostle Parish on Margin Street in Peabody.

Sheridan plans to preside over a 4 p.m. family Mass and Christmas pageant at St. James and assist at the other three Masses at St. James and St. Thomas on Christmas Eve.
St. James is the church where the funeral Mass was held for Army Sgt. James Ayube II, a senior combat medic killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan earlier this month, and Sheridan said Christmas Eve this year will be especially poignant for the parish.

"Christmas brings us back to what is really important," Sheridan said, family, faith, hope and love.

During the children's Mass, Sheridan plans to use some "sparkly bright bulbs" to talk about society and culture: While we crave the "flashy this and glitzy that," we are really missing the point of the holiday.

"Let's talk about the real light, which is Christ," Sheridan said.

Sheridan says he enjoys the start of the midnight Mass as "an incredible peace" sweeps the church.

"I'm so happy you are here and God is so happy you are here, and let's celebrate that," Sheridan said is his message.  Sheridan loves the chaos of Christmas Eve.

"It's also a lot of fun," Sheridan said. "Christmas Eve is joyous."

At Calvary Episcopal Church in Danvers, the Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas said her children's service at 5 p.m. will include a display of four children's beds, an electronic swinging high chair, an ornate crib, a golden bed and a manger. She plans to ask families what kind of bed Jesus would have chosen.

"I'm trying to talk about who really needed Jesus and who Jesus comes to," Keith-Lucas said of the meaning behind Jesus' humble first bed, a manger. It symbolizes he came to help the poor and the powerless.

Keith-Lucas has also been thinking about the message of hospitality this Christmas season and the meaning of the line in the Bible about there not being room in the inn for Joseph and Mary. They instead found refuge with animals in a stable, which would seem a humble place for such a momentous event.

"Maybe God comes to us in exactly the places where we are trying to shut God out," Keith-Lucas said.

As they prepare their Christmas Eve sermons, some clergy are mindful their flocks only swell with Christmas and Easter each year. Not only is Christmas Eve a chance to preach to those who do not regularly go to church, it is also a time to give them a message of hope.

Sheridan said the archdiocese has a "Catholics Come Home" campaign to make those who have stopped coming to church feel welcome.

With many families facing difficult times and feeling "pretty beat up," Collemer, who is retiring this summer after 15 years at the Cabot Street church, said the story of Christmas has meaning.

"We are all in need of a reminder of a love story," Collemer said. If people feel they are loved, it can help them get through rough times.

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