COMMUNITY ADVENT BREAKFAST
The arrival of Bethlehem’s festive holiday season was officially heralded at the 53rd annual Advent Breakfast, sponsored by the Citizens Christmas City Committee (CCCC) and its Community Advent Breakfast subcommittee.
More than 200 people attended the non-denominational event at Moravian Village. Besides the meal, there was seasonal music played by the Bethlehem Area Moravian Trombone Choir, along with caroling by Moravian College’s Sigma Alpha Lambda Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.
Held for the first time in 1966, the breakfast was designed to put a more spiritual emphasis on the observance of Christmas. Besides the music, the program traditionally includes a special guest speaker and other dignitaries, a candle lighting ceremony and the audience singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Olga Negron, vice president of Bethlehem City Council, told the group about her experience as a single mother raising three daughters and working for $6.40 an hour. She talked about getting food stamps and help from local churches and other programs that got her through three early years. Once when she and her family were eating at a Bethlehem charity, one of her daughters remarked, “I like your food better. Why are we here?”
Today, one daughter is a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and another is a lawyer. Re-elected to city council last year, Negron said, “I make sure when decisions are made to remember those in ne-ed.”
This year’s Advent message was given by Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, and an advocate who has been called “the region’s loudest voice for the homeless, jobless and underprivileged.” Among CACLV programs are the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, the Energy Partnership and Safe Harbor Easton.
During his remarks, Jennings quoted from the King James Bible on the birth of the Christ child, then observed, “Oddly enough, no matter how many times you look, there is nothing in there about fat old bearded guys in goofy red suits; there is nothing about eggnog, chocolate chip cookies or mistletoe.” He then asked the audience to take another look at the story.
“Mary is little more than a child; biblical scholars place her around 15 years old. She’s pregnant, but not married. Her soon-to-be husband learns that the girl he will marry is pregnant, and he knows he is not the father; the story she tells is that she is pregnant by God. They have no place to lay their heads; technically, they are homeless. The son of God is born amidst the stench of a barn, in a trough; no throne, no armies.”
Jennings made the point that God is trying to tell us something.
“Christmas is not about the haves; it’s about the have-nots. It’s not about those who can; it’s about those who cannot. It’s about those who are lonely and forgotten.”
Following on this theme, Jennings asked and answered, “So where are our leaders? They are spraying teargas on people fleeing places where there is nothing; places where oppression and deprivation, often reinforced by our own policies, is a way of life. and they cannot live with it anymore.”
Looking closer to home, Jennings acknowledged that there are many in the community who embrace the ideals of love and decision-making for the good of others, but he also recognized that there are “far too many” who could give more and don’t; and could show more tolerance and don’t.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease 12 years ago, the 60-year-old Jennings said he doesn’t know how long he can keep up the pace of trying to make a difference.
“I need your help to save one, two, 200 or 2,000 more souls. I am cynical enough to know what I am up against, but optimistic enough to pick the fight anyway.