Love is the essence of Christmas

By Anne Abayasekara

There’s a lift to my spirits and a spring in my step. My third son, the only one of my children abroad whom I hadn’t seen this year, called unexpectedly from Pennsylvania to tell me he was coming to spend Christmas with me.

His family are unable to come with him, but they are willing to spare him at this special time of year because it will give me joy. The spirit of Christmas prompts people to do loving things for others. It’s that season of loving and giving – not just to those we love, our families and friends, but for reaching out to those who have nothing to celebrate, because of their sad - and sometimes desperate,- circumstances.

Jesus Christ was born in a stable and there was no fine layette prepared for Him. His mother, Mary, wrapped Him in “swaddling clothes”, which means strips of cloth.

In this day and age of commercialism let us not forget the humble beginnings of Christmas. Pic courtesy

The only touch of grandeur was in the visit of the three kings or wise-men from the East. It was “the glory of the Lord” shining about them that brought the shepherds hastening to the manger.
In the majestic words of St. John, “ The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory………….”

Indeed, the glory that was glimpsed by shepherds and kings, by Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and by Mary the mother of Jesus herself, by the old man Simeon in the temple and the aged prophetess, Anna, has only grown brighter through the centuries to encompass thousands upon thousands of people, most of them ordinary folk like you and I.

Some have been so transformed by the radiance of that light that their names stand out in our consciousness – Francis of Assisi, for instance, Father Van Diemen among the lepers, Grenfell of Labrador, Hudson Taylor and Gladys Alward in China, C.F. Andrews, Sadhu Sundar Singh and Pandita Ramabai in India, Martin Luther King, Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene, William Booth, George Muller, Kagawa of Japan, Watchman Nee of China, Dr. Tom Dooley of Laos, Evelyn Karney of Talawa, Mother Teresa.

These are among the names we all know, but countless people lead lives of loving kindness and service to their fellows, with no thought of fame or reward, save their Saviour’s “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”. For, whenever and wherever the hearts of women and men are touched by the love of Christ, there follows a burning concern for the destitute and the disadvantaged, the orphaned and the old, the lonely and the sad.

The glamour and glitter of today’s shopping malls and the so-called Christmas festivities in hotels, have nothing, really, to do with Christmas, “Christ is the reason for the season” and we need to remind ourselves of that.

He said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

He uttered a solemn warning when he said, “Watch out and guard yourself against every kind of greed, because a person’s true life is not made up of the things he owns, no matter how rich he may be.”
The Great Commandment He gave us, was that we should love God with all our hearts and love our neighbour as ourselves and He related the parable of the Good Samaritan to show that any person in need is our neighbour.

He gave us the Golden Rule, that we should treat others the way we would like them to treat us. Towards the end, He said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you,” and, “If you have love for one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.” Christ was Love incarnate. He loved the unlovely and the unloveable, whether an unclean leper or an unscrupulous tax-collecter or a sinful woman.

His compassion embraced all humankind. He exhorted His followers to feed the hungry, to minister to the sick, to clothe the naked, to show hospitality to the stranger, to visit those in prison and to comfort the sad.

Praise be, there are more people than we know of, who do just that. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”, He said. Laying down His life for our salvation, He taught us, both by precept and by the example of His whole life on earth, to forgive those who wrong us, to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us and to pray for those who persecute us. This is the Christ whom we gather to worship and adore.

“Every time someone reaches out to help another, THAT is Christmas; every time someone puts anger aside and strives for understanding, THAT is Christmas; every time people forget their differences and realize their love for each other, THAT is Christmas.”

May this Christmas bring us closer to the spirit of human understanding, closer to genuine peace and reconciliation, closer to a recognition and acceptance of our common humanity. No greater birthday present could we offer Him.

“To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.”

Don’t forget the older folks this Christmas

By Bernie Wijesekera

December is for Christians around the world a time to remember the birth of Christ. It should not be confined to the festivities alone. It is a time for remembrance and family. It is a time for gratitude for those who helped us reach whatever position we are in today. ‘Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul,’ said Henry Ward Beecher. It is a useful time to reflect on the elders in our society. Don’t forget your parents who taught you to stand upright in society. Divert your attention and resources to meaningful service. Let your children share their Christmas goodies with neighbourhood children who may not have enough to eat.

Today’s society has changed and material values prevail over all else. Politicians make use of elders to win votes and then forget them once they enter Parliament. Elders, even those who once had a position in society and wealth are seen roaming the streets with no means or people to sustain them. On a personal note, I recall how my mother suffered to bring me up without a father, a sacrifice I can never forget.

In the West, elders are cared for organizations supported by the State and they can live in dignity until they draw their last breath.

Parliamentarian Douglas Devananda suggested that legislation be brought in for children to support their parents to live even in a home with a monthly allowance being deducted from one’s pay. It is a meaningful suggestion and one that should be acted upon. There should be more homes for elders than we have at present.

‘God’s gift to you is Life; what you do with it is your gift to God’. May caring for the forgotten be our Christmas wish this season.

Lend a hand; buy a greeting card

It's Christmas and if you're looking to buy greeting cards consider a card that would help the aged. HelpAge Sri Lanka, an organization that supports elders has been selling greeting cards for the past 20 years as their main fundraising activity. The cards are donated by various artists to HelpAge. This year 23 beautiful designs have been printed. The proceeds will be used for various services that would facilitate the improvement in the quality of life of the elders of Sri Lanka.

HelpAge provides services such as Mobile Medical Units providing free medical and eye care facilities to needy elders. Free cataract surgeries are also done at the HelpAge Eye Care Centre at 14, Sinsapa Road, Colombo 6 and as many as 15 cataract operations are performed each day. Elders over the age of 55 who require cataract surgeries can come here with a letter from the relevant AGA, certifying that the patient is unable to afford private treatment.

Providing free spectacles for elders and conducting programmes on elders' rights, home care and care for elders' needs are some of the services rendered by HelpAge. Hearing Aids, medicine and orthopedic equipment are also supplied.

This Christmas too HelpAge cards are available at supermarkets and bookshops across the island, and at the HelpAge Headquarters 102, Pemananda Mawathe, Raththanapitiya. The large cards will be priced at Rs.32.50 and the regular sized cards at Rs.25. Organizations who would like to customize the cards and have their logo, name etc printed can also do so free of charge.

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