Nov 23, 2011

Christmas is alive even in Potterville.

It's a Wonderful Life: Clarence (Henry Travers...  

The little town of Bethlehem was busy with travelers coming to register to pay their new taxes to the government. There were crowds to the point that the inns were full and many households were crowded and being shared with distant relatives returning to register. In those days many traveled on carts pulled by animals or riding on animals. The streets had to be “messy”. The local merchants were busy selling food and supplies to those coming into the town, probably at inflated prices since the people had to depend on what they could buy.

Registering must have been a confusing affair as people had to line up at the places the tax collectors set up. I read once that tax collection during that time was spread out between Caesar’s, Herod’s, and the local bureaucrats (since they all took advantage of the opportunity) and held on different days and locations. So the stay was extended for those coming in as they did their business and rested for the trip back from where they came.

During all this the actual first Christmas was occurring peacefully on the outskirts of town in fields where shepherds tended their flocks. It was a private cave made as comfortable as Joseph could make it. The most important day in the history of the world, and no one in the little town of Bethlehem knew what was happening. But in the end it changed the course of human history.

The mental picture I get reminds me of the classic movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stuart. Stuart's character, George Bailey, in a moment of despair, wishes he never existed and gets to see his hometown of Bedford Falls transformed into the cold, uncharitable Potterville. The quiet main street was bright with lights and crowded with shoppers, drunks, and general immorality.

Today to a large degree, our whole society has become Potterville. It is not the same as when we were growing up in the middle third of the 20th century. I think we were fortunate, because looking back on 2000 years of history many periods of time were much worse than today, maybe even the norm. Like today, Christ was X’ed out of Christmas. Much of what goes on today really does deserve to be called X’mas, or “the holidays”. It has nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

Through the ages the Celebration of Christmas for the most part was done in the hearts of Christians. Just as in the first Christmas, it was really celebrated outside of the “main street” of the busy town/society that was oblivious to what was really going on. So nothing has really changed much.

As Franciscans we will continue to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, putting Jesus in our hearts and encouraging other Catholics and fellow Christians to do the same. If we don’t encourage them, society certainly is not up to it; but in the end it will change everything. Tell them about it.

Merry CHRISTmas. Peace and all Good. Bob, SFO