On behalf of the members of the Chaplaincy Program, I would like to offer to the members of the Rio family a hearty Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. To the Jewish members of the Rio family, I offer wishes for a Happy Chanukah.
Recently, the campus witnessed the lighting of our campus Christmas tree. There is also a National Community Christmas Tree on the grounds of the White House. President Calvin Coolidge began this tradition of lighting such a tree in 1923. In 1949, President Harry Truman gave his own brief radio address in conjunction with the lighting of the Christmas tree that year:
Once more I have come out to Independence to celebrate Christmas with my family. We are back among old friends and neighbors around our own fireside. Christmas is the great epic of home. Our homecoming here on this Christmas Eve in familiar surroundings sanctified by family associations through the years–memories of joys and sorrows, of life and death–is typical of similar family gatherings all over the country.
The memories of most of us go back to childhood when we think of Christmas. After all, the first Christmas had its beginning in the coming of a Little Child. It remains a child’s day, a day of childhood love and of childhood memories. That feeling of love has clung to this day down all the centuries from the first Christmas. There has clustered around Christmas Day the feeling of warmth, of kindness, of innocence, of love-the love of little children–the love for them–the love that was in the heart of the Little Child whose birthday it is.
Through that child love, there came to all mankind the love of a Divine Father and a Blessed Mother so that the love of the Holy Family could be shared by the whole human family. These are some of the thoughts that came to mind as I gave the signal to light our National Christmas Tree in the south grounds of the White House.
Sitting here in my own home, so like other homes all over America, I have been thinking about some families in other once happy lands. We must not forget that there are thousands and thousands of families homeless, hopeless, destitute, and torn with despair on this Christmas Eve. For them as for the Holy Family on the first Christmas, there is no room in the inn. Among these families–broken with the tragedy of homelessness–are myriads of little children who have never known what it was to have a home or a country that they or their parents or their brothers and sisters could call their own.
Let us not on this Christmas, in our enjoyment of the abundance with which Providence has endowed us, forget those who, because of the cruelty of war, have no shelter–those multitudes for whom, in the phrase of historic irony, there is no room in the inn.
In this blessed season, let not blind passion darken our counsels. We shall not solve a moral question by dodging it. We can scarcely hope to have a full Christmas if we turn a deaf ear to the suffering of even the least of Christ’s little ones.
Since returning home, I have been reading again in our family Bible some of the passages which foretold this night. It was that grand old seer Isaiah who prophesied in the Old Testament the sublime event which found fulfillment almost 2,000 years ago. Just as Isaiah foresaw the coming of Christ, so another battler for the Lord, St. Paul, summed up the law and the prophets in a glorification of love which he exalts even above both faith and hope.
We miss the spirit of Christmas if we consider the Incarnation as an indistinct and doubtful, far-off event unrelated to our present problems. We miss the purport of Christ’s birth if we do not accept it as a living link which joins us together in spirit as children of the ever-living and true God. In love alone–the love of God and the love of man–will be found the solution of all the ills which afflict the world today. Slowly, sometimes painfully, but always with increasing purpose, emerges the great message of Christianity: only with wisdom comes joy, and with greatness comes love.
In the spirit of the Christ Child–as little children with joy in our hearts and peace in our souls–let us, as a nation, dedicate ourselves anew to the love of our fellowmen. In such a dedication we shall find the message of the Child of Bethlehem, the real meaning of Christmas.
Truman might be astonished if he knew his words spoken nearly seven decades ago could easily be applied in 2015. The war against Islamic terrorism will soon enter its fifteenth year. The refugees of Truman’s time were fleeing communist aggression. Today’s refugees are fleeing the brutality of ISIS; those trying to survive a world where people are murdered for being a different religion than those in ISIS. Women and children widowed and fatherless are further victimized by being sold into sexual slavery, trafficked humans whose sale is a filthy revenue stream that helps sustain ISIS and funds their plans of world domination.
The solution to the woes of the modern world is the same answer to the problems of Truman’s era, as it was the same cure for the ancient world, spoken by a man who was once that baby in the manger, whose birth is celebrated this holiday season. Two principles that are timely, yet timeless: Love your neighbor as you love yourself and do to others as you would have them do to you.
How different our world would be if these principles were daily practiced throughout the world. Though there may be little an individual can do to end the domestic and foreign turmoil reported by the news broadcasts across the globe, there is something an individual CAN do in the small portion of the planet he or she occupies: They can practice these principles, not only at Christmas, but each day of the year. When they do, I think, the baby in the manger smiles.
William Plants – Chaplaincy Coordinator