Homily Christmas Eve and Day masses 2016

Christmas Midnight and Day Masses                                                                                                                                December 25, 2016

In an Advent meditation by Brian Meza and called, “A Child to Guide Them”, he writes:

 

…I love the moment the light goes out in my kids’ bedrooms, the covers are tucked under cold shoulders, and I sit beside their beds.  This space is filled with grace.  What am I going to hear from my two young boys?  What can I learn?  How will God be revealed to me through them?  (Nov. 29, 2016)

This reflection calls to mind an exchange I had with a couple about their youngest son, now a young man.  Years ago and as a small boy, he announced to his mom that, when he grew up, he wanted “to fix hearts”, as he put it.  His mother immediately jumped to the happy conclusion that her youngest wanted to be a heart surgeon.

Fast forward to the present.  That was not what he meant.  Now a teacher, what he meant at that young age and years ago, was that he wanted to fix the hearts of students who had been broken in some way.  When he set her straight she began to perceive within him compassion and a personal concern for others that had been there almost from the beginning.   She learned from him; what I would call a moment of grace.  Revealed in that exchange between mother and son there happened something deep and of God, I believe. When we are willing to hear and to learn from our children, they teach us still.  Perhaps that’s why the eternal God came to us swaddled in infant flesh; the Compassionate One who wants only to fix hearts?

Being a teacher won’t make a person rich.  Yet, it is one way we can fix hearts that are broken in such sad and tragic ways today.  The way of compassion enriches life with meaning and helps us understand the true meaning of Christ’s Birth; the meaning of our lives here and now.

Jesus was so at home with those whose hearts had been broken.  He sought out such people and ate with them.  What we need to learn—and so easily forget—is that this same Christ continues to move within the mystery of our own flesh: to fix  hearts by way of our compassion and personal care.  This is what we ought to learn and as we celebrate this Birth.  We must be the hands, feet and heart of Christ   that, by our presence and impulse of grace, hearts continue to be fixed and lives mended through us.  This is the way Christ continues to come close; to be born for us in this sometimes dark and broken world.

Yet, are we willing to learn; to let the miraculous nature of his Birth happen even now?

In her book “Accidental Saints” Nadia Bolz-Weber tells of an encounter that shook her and exposed    resistance to this God who desires to get close.  And she writes:

I recently was asked by an earnest young seminarian, “What do you do personally to get closer to God?”  Before I even realized I was saying it, I replied, “What?  Nothing.  Sounds like a horrible idea to me, trying to get closer to God.”  Half the time, I wish God would leave me alone.  Getting closer to God might mean getting told to love someone I don’t even like, or to give away even more of my money.  It might mean letting some idea or dream that is dear to me get ripped away.  (p.8)

She goes on to reflect how we spend a lifetime making excuses:  running from God and the demands of love, revealed in the cradled, needy nature of this newborn Child we’re asked to face tonight. 

Yet, at the end of the day and as the ego “clocks out”, it all catches up with her.  And she continues: 

…the truth fights past the layers of food and entertainment and all the other distractions I shovel on top of it and, unbidden, crawls its way back up into my thoughts…

I’m about to fall asleep, and it is then that the uglier truths claw their way to the surface.  Oddly, it is at these times that I feel closest to God.  Not when I’m on a mountaintop, but when I’m lying in bed half-asleep, feeling defenseless.  (p.17)

This is what we can learn from Christ’s Birth;  from this loving, persistent God who does not give up but “claws” his way back into our lives and beyond the denial that is there.  God does just that in the defenseless nature of a newborn, lying half-asleep in a manger of straw; who felt vulnerable.  This is why, when our defenses are down and vulnerability up, we feel closest to God and sense our need for God.

Perhaps this is why the story of Christ’s Birth happens at night; the crowded Inn fast asleep while shepherds, living in the fields, keep the night watch over their flock.  Christ is born and comes to us when it is darkest and ourselves defenseless; with our guard down and the ego clocked out.  It is then there begins to be born within us something newly alive and promising.

I think of a line from the carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:  “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  There’s revealed in  Christ a God who can meet those hopes and the fears  existing in us all; that, paradoxically, come to light only when it is darkest: with the ego at bay and our defenses down.  Christ is born at night, and God comes to us when it is darkest.

The book of Wisdom puts it this way:

For when peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half-spent, your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne leapt; a fierce warrior in a doomed land.

                                                                                                                                                                (Wisdom 18:14-15)

At times, it seems  we live in a “doomed land”;  where so much vies to deaden that hunger  and need for God.  Like Nadia Weber, we sometimes wish God would leave us alone; we fear the closeness; the intimacy and demands of divine love.

We’ve yet to learn God wants only to get close and personal and feed the hunger that is there.  The manger  where the newborn Jesus was found by shepherds was nothing more than a feeding trough.  There is a hungering need God alone meets and fathoms.  Vainly, we try to do it ourselves which only leaves us more famished; our hearts  broken more than ever before. 

Will we ever learn and hear what is being said by Jesus’ Birth  and what it reveals about us?

Again, words by Nadia Weber:

The world in which Christ was born was certainly not a Norman Rockwell painting.  The world has never been that world.  God did not enter the world of our nostalgic, silent-night, snow-blanketed, peace-on-earth, suspended reality of Christmas.  God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered our violent and disturbing world…

He came to us in the most vulnerable of ways, as a powerless, flesh-and-blood newborn.  As if to say, “You may hate your bodies, but I am blessing all human flesh.  You may admire strength and might, but I am blessing all human weakness.  You may seek power, but I am blessing all human vulnerability.   (pp.77 & 188)

Christ entered this sometimes violent, disturbing world to fix hearts, and so teach us how we need someone to come on our behalf; poor and hungry as we are.  When we learn that, then we are more willing to become that for those around us and within this world.

The Birth of Christ and appearance of God in flesh teaches us beyond words and speaks of the reality of love: of a God who gets close to us for good, helping us see the true dignity and nature of us all.

In the New York Times, I read the Op-Ed by Mark Shriver, called:  “This Merciful Year”.  He writes of an experience Pope Francis had as  rector in Argentina.  Shriver writes:

In his book “The Name of God is Mercy,” he described an episode from his time in Argentina.  The parish church sometimes helped out a woman whose husband had left her, and who had turned to prostitution to feed her young children.

“I remember one day—it was during the Christmas holidays—she came with her children and asked for me.  I went to greet her.  She had come to thank me.  I thought it was for the package of food that we had sent her.  ‘Did you receive it?’ I asked.  ‘Yes, yes, thank you for that, too.  But I came here today to thank you because you never stopped calling me Senora.’”

The story forced me to think about how I treated people in need, particularly the homeless man I saw outside my office every day.  I occasionally gave him money, but I didn’t stop and look him in the eye; I didn’t ask his name, let alone call him Mister.

Now I know his name is Robert.  When I give him money or buy him breakfast, I ask him how he is doing.  I don’t do it every time I encounter a homeless person, but I am getting better.  I have enjoyed learning people’s names, exchanging a few words and a smile.  Has it changed the world?  No.  But it has made me more aware, even perhaps more sensitive to others’ struggles. 

What can we learn from Christ’s Birth that we celebrate?  That there is a God who never loses sight of our dignity, no matter the sin.  Who, in Jesus, looks us in the eye and calls us by name.  Whose sole desire is to fix hearts; ever sensitive to our struggles.   

Are we willing to let this Birth change us and so that we find the grace and willingness do the same for others?

 

Father Tim Clark, Pastor

Our Lady of the Lake Parish, Seattle

 

 

 
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