Christmas homily December 24/25, 2018

 

Christmas homily
December 24/25, 2018
 
In a reflection called, “Asking for a Sign” Alan Jones writes:
 
The problem is that Christmas has lost its shock value…What do you think was the hardest thing to believe for the early Christians?  It’s the shocking truth that everybody matters.  You matter!  What is the most real thing about you?  The most real thing about you is that you are loved.  The good news is that there is one human family and each one of us matters.  (pp. 101-102)
 
Everybody matters.  We are much more than consumers within a technological market society, though our lives are dictated by both much of the time and in ways that at times dehumanize.  There is so much more to us that matters; created as we are in God’s Image and Likeness and meant for communion with others and so with God whose reality we glimpse in every human face when willing to see.
 
In Christ’s birth God has entered our orbit, if you will;   into its gravitational pull with its sin and grace, birth and death.  From experience and because of Christ, God now fathoms our fears and desires; life itself with its anguish and joy.  Nothing human is foreign to God because of this birth, found outside a crowded inn and among animals.  
 
 I’m reminded of the Jesuit Karl Rahner’s words I read years ago and as a young monk; words which made the mystery of the Incarnation proximate and real.  He said:
 
We have no distant God but one who is close, who is flesh; who is where we are.  
 
 To God, each of us matters.  And there exists in each of us a desire to be first in the eyes of another; all of which speaks of the reality of God.
 
Simply, this is the good news of this swaddled birth that happened in time and long ago in the impoverished hill country of Palestine.  Yet, today this birth and turning point in human history has lost its shock value.  We live in a world that has grown cynical and indifferent to this revelation.  We seem to be pulling away one from another at this crucial time in our history; divorcing ourselves from what matters and often reflected within the web of current policies and legislation.
 
 I find the world lacking in empathy and the human touch we all need and desire.   Aside from its advantages, our world is becoming more digitized with artificial intelligence playing a greater role.  
 
So, I was greatly concerned while reading a recent article in the New York Times called”Company When Life is Lonely”.  It lays out a given day at a nursing facility just outside of Paris and dedicated to the care of patients with dementia.
  
The article centers on a robot named Zora, programmed to lead exercises and play games with the residents; controlled from a laptop by a nurse.  Zora has improved the mood of some patients who’ve become more involved and less isolated.  One patient said that “Zora puts cheerfulness into our lives here.”  
 
One woman who had bruises on both arms would not tell staff what had happened, yet confided in Zora, this robot, how she had fallen out of her bed while sleeping.  This bruised woman who tells her struggles to this robot poignantly shows us that basic hunger for connection and communion we desire and that lives inside each of us.    Like this lonely woman, we want to matter to someone.  It’s in our make-up and why we exist at all.
 
  Zora, however, can do only so much and as it is placed inside a small suitcase at day’s end; its battery running low.  
 
Not everyone at the facility is enamored with Zora and this technological approach to a basic human need, however. Granted, there is an uptick in loneliness and staffing is stretched in such facilities the article highlights.  Yet, is this the answer to the sadness of soul?   One nurse had this to say:  “Nothing will ever replace the human touch, the human warmth our patients need.”  
 
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.      What has been revealed by Christ’s birth and for those willing to ponder this pulse of grace within our broken world is that God can be found within the wonder of human touch and warmth.  It’s the way God gets close; willing to take on the skin of our existence.  It speaks of empathy and love.  
 
Simply, this is the meaning behind this swaddled birth outside that crowded inn.  It reveals to those with the courage to believe the inconspicuous nature of divine love; of a God who comes close; with us always, even now.  
 
In his book, “You Are Not a Gadget” Jaron Lanier points out that people reduce themselves because of information technologies.  And he writes:  
 
Information systems need to have information in order to run, but information underrepresents reality.  It can’t give us the full picture.  There is no perfect computer analogue for what we call a ‘person’.  When life is turned into a data-base there is degradation and we barely notice.  When a human being becomes a set of data on a website he or she is reduced.  Everything shrinks.  
(p.103 in “Goodness and Light”)
 
Christ’s birth and belief in the Incarnation—of God entering the gravitational pull of human life—is the refusal to be degraded or diminished in impersonal ways.  Its proclamation announced by angels to shepherds insists that everyone matters and helps recover what’s often lost within today’s frenetic pace:    that each of us is a mystery and life a gift.
 
I do believe God continues to take flesh within the gravitational pull of our lives and speaks to us on what matters; to anyone willing to listen and take it in with the eyes of faith.  By reading that NY Times article I felt shocked by what I read.  I felt something was being said that mattered and needed attention as I read; its message prophetic.  
 
It happened again Christmas Eve morning and while reading another newspaper article; this time in the Seattle Times:  an article by columnist Tyrone Beason called, “One Man’s Message of Love Helped Rekindle My Flame for Seattle”.
 
Beason writes about his disillusionment with Seattle; a journalist who’s “had enough of the soulless new buildings and the outrageous cost of living” as he puts it.     No longer in love with Seattle he discovered twenty-five years ago he was planning to leave when, suddenly, he came upon graffiti at a bus stop and near the Lazarus Center.  It read, “Just Love More”.    Long story short, Beason discovers that the words were written by a homeless man named Chance”; now living somewhere in Texas and possibly on the streets.   Reading the words “Just love more” for the first time a light went off and would not let go of Beason’s mind.  The challenge of those words motivated him to give Seattle another ‘chance’, another shot at love within our increasingly cold and indifferent city.   With surprising conviction he felt inspired to “just love more” convinced that this was the antidote to such indifference.   It was a shock to his system taking him by surprise and as he found within him the willingness to “Just love more”.
 
Those words scribbled by a homeless man Chance changed the heart of a journalist for the better and opened his eyes to what matters after all.  Simply, it’s the vision of the gospel and meaning of Christ’s birth we celebrate tonight; a birth that continues to touch lives with its shockingly simple message when we allow its swaddled mystery to take hold of us.    
 
Christ was sent into this world, into the gravitational pull of our lives, to teach us to “just love more” and with its saving power to change us for good.
 
Christ’s birth brings to light a God who gives us another chance; another shot at love which is the antidote to sin’s cold indifference with its dehumanizing approach.  
 
Let me end with words by the Dutch priest and writer, Henri Nouwen:
 
We were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was.  Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do.  These tasks may be very specialized, or they may be the general task of loving one another in everyday life.  (p.99 “Discernment”
 
On this Day, may the message and the meaning Christ’s birth be scribbled inside our lives and within our flesh so we might find the willingness to “Just love more” today and in the New year ahead.
 
A blessed Christmas!
 
 
Father Tim Clark, pastor
Our Lady of the Lake Parish, Seattle

 

 
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