Every year, I post my mom’s Christmas message. However, recent events have given me pause as to the meaning of “love” and “neighbor.” Indeed, who is our neighbor? In particular, I reflect on the parable of the good Samaritan and how Christ put a fresh twist on the Old Testament commandment “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The parable condensed
Robbers attacked a Jewish man traveling alone and abandoned him dying by the roadside. A priest glanced at him and quickly passed by, pretending not to see. A Levite (who assists priests) then came along, averting his eyes from the victim. Finally, a Samaritan (from a group considered adversaries of the Jews) stopped. The Samaritan bandaged the man’s wounds and then lifted his broken body on the back of his own donkey to carry him to refuge and healing.
Who is our neighbor?
Mom loved the poems of Robert Frost, who once gave a lecture at her beloved alma mater Agnes Scott College in Atlanta—a high point in her education. She gave me a collection of Frost’s works early in my life. We read a few together, and then she left it to me—but not before commenting on the difference between the phrases “mending wall” and “good fences make good neighbors,” drawn from one of Frost’s more familiar poems (“Mending Wall”).
The original post
Several years before she died, my mother wrote this Advent devotional. Sublime simplicity about the deep complexity between the best of our humanity and God. She lived the message every day of her life. Caritas.
What is the true meaning of Christmas? Is it decorations, gifts, parties, family gatherings, Santa Claus? As delightful as these traditions are, they can easily put us on a secular path that may lead us unaware to a love of things rather than people and blindness to the real meaning of Christmas.
Years ago, the commercial world did not bombard us with messages to buy, buy, buy. Now it assaults us via television, radio, the Internet, magazines, and newspapers.
Today we must take the time to stop . . . pause . . . read . . . pray . . . alone with our family and remember what Christmas means: the beginning of Christianity, the way of the One who was born in the manger, and the hope of the world for peace and love among all people.
Remember Christina Rosetti’s hymn “Love Came Down at Christmas”?
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
Star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Love came down at Christmas. Indeed, it did! We need to share that love, not only with family and friends but also with strangers who need our help at Christmas and throughout the year . . . our own small acts of love . . . smiling at a stressed store clerk, visiting a shut-in, phoning a sick friend, being a good listener. In effect, gifts of our time.
May our celebration of the baby born in the manger inspire us to follow the way of Christ more closely.
My parents’ gift: the family of humankind
As we grow and change, the term family redefines itself. Today I think fondly of friends around the world. Many have sent holiday wishes winging my way.
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts my parents bestowed was an interest in people from other places, including colleagues who emigrated to the States with their families. My dad, in particular, loved traveling to other countries. When touring, Mom said he sometimes wandered off for hours to engage the locals. While in China, he delighted in people eager to practice English in public parks. My parents encouraged my study of foreign language and travel abroad.
At age 14, I unwrapped a powerful Christmas gift—The Family of Man—the book based on the landmark photography exhibition that opened at The Museum of Modern Art in 1955. More than 500 photographs told the human story of all cultures, finding common ground in themes such as love, children, youth, middle age, old age, and death. The collection toured the world for eight years.
Now I understand that my parents left me an enduring greeting card, which I now share with my family of humankind.
Credit: The Good Samaritan by Eugène Delacroix (free copyright of image in U.S.)
Festive: share your bright light with a neighbor whose candle may be sputtering.