For many Christians, the four weeks before Christmas are considered the season of Advent, a word that means “coming.” The traditional themes for these four weeks of preparation prior to Christmas are hope, peace, joy and love. After four months of preaching each Sunday at Emmaus Homes West Campus, I know much more about these majestic themes of faith than I did before.
Bobby asks each Sunday, “When’s Christmas?” He doesn’t want to miss it. That’s edge-of-your-chair anticipation. It’s that hope and waiting for Jesus’ birth wrapped up in a few words. This is holy expectation, of the hope that the Holy One of God, Jesus was and is, and the hope for this world that Jesus brings with his birth.
“It’s Dec. 25, Bobby, a Sunday,” I replied. “Glad you asked. I don’t want to miss it either.”
We “pass the peace” every week in chapel. George forgets to wait for me to begin with “The peace of Christ be with you.” He’s quick to offer his hand to begin greeting everyone with this ancient form of acceptance and reconciliation, one to the other. Those who are able to move about, residents and staff, go to every person in the pews chairs, or wheelchairs. No one is left out or forgotten.
Peace. From peace in the world to peace in our hearts, to the peaceful setting of the chapel to being at peace in the midst of chaos, it is a concept with a range of meaning that somehow all makes sense when I look James or Kathryn in their eyes and I shake their hands saying, “The peace of Christ be with you.”
There is nothing more joyful than hearing “Jesus Loves Me” belted out every Sunday. Another Bobby enjoys leading us in the singing of this hymn, and I gladly invite him to do so. Even the traditional “Doxology” is sung heartily. All the singing is joyful even though sometimes it’s a “joyful noise unto the Lord" as written in Psalm 100.
The joy in Jesus is real for this faith community. They “praise God from whom all blessings flow” and rejoice in God their Savior from a humble and pure place, their hearts.
From their hearts, the people voice their prayers. Prayer time is a show of many hands. True concern is expressed for others of the community, for mom and family, for the troops, for the people of Joplin, for children who don’t have much at Christmas, for the animals and finally, finally for themselves.
I’ve never heard a man I’ll call Frank speak. One Sunday recently during prayer requests Frank pointed to himself and put the palms of his hands together as if praying. Looking at him I asked, “You want us to pray for you?” He seemed to nod in agreement.
Surrounded by this community of loving kindness, Frank felt loved enough to ask in his own way for prayer.
That’s love. That’s the love of Jesus coming through the handshakes passing of the peace of Christ, the singing of “Jesus Loves Me” every week believing every word, that’s the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in a faith community that lives the words of 1 John 4:19, “We love because God first loved us. “
I have learned much about love from my temporary assignment with Emmaus Chapel West. I have seen it freely given and shared.
Recently, in St. Peters and in St. Charles, city governments have considered applications for group homes for developmentally disabled persons. In St. Peters, Community Living Inc. applied to the Board of Adjustment in November for a hardship waiver of a density restriction that applied to group homes. The waiver was not approved, and so a home ready for four developmentally disabled adult women will not be their home for Christmas.
In December, received approval from the St. Charles City Council of its application for a conditional use permit for a group home for four developmentally disabled men. They’ll be home for Christmas.
A newer Christmas song is titled “When Love Came Down.” For most if not all Christians, that statement carries truth.
If Christmas were about housing density, then love would have been born in the country, not a city.
If Christmas were about backyard swimming pools, then love would have been born on a tropical coastline, not a dry, dusty inland city.
If Christmas were about property values, then love would have been born in a mansion, not a manger.
Christmas is about God with us, in Jesus.
It was and is about love.
I pray that Christmas will be about love for you as it is for those who know it very well, the faith community of Emmaus Homes West Campus.