My Dear Friends,
“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
Merry Christmas! I am so thankful to be sharing my fourth Christmas with all of you as your pastor. We are a family who just observed four joyous weeks of Advent with parties and music and spiritual preparation for this day. We had a joyous time because at the center of it all was the love of family and at the center of the love of family is Jesus Christ. On that holiest of nights centuries ago, the warmth of the family is what kept our Lord warm, and we feel that warmth here in our church as we gather to celebrate more than a birthday. We are gathered to celebrate God’s marvelous gift to us in his Son and to hear the ancient Christmas story told again.
We are struck by the simplicity and the depth of Luke’s account of the events surrounding Christ’s birth, of God’s coming into the world. Ten years ago, Pope Benedict XVI gave a stirring Midnight Mass homily that still resonates today:
“Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendor of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.”
What struck me from that paragraph is that God became a child who “trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms.” Imagine that? God trusts us. He loves us so much that he humbled himself to the point of becoming a vulnerable little infant totally dependent on humanity. God dependent on humanity: this is love! Totally surrendering himself to us so that we might love or might “dare” to love him. He is the light that has come into our darkness. Notice the art on the bulletin cover that we chose for this weekend. It is “Adoration of the Child” by Gerard von Honthorst. Notice how all the light in this mostly dark painting is emanating by the Christ Child. As the inscription over the reredos says, Christ is indeed the light of the world. Never more resplendent than on that dark night in Bethlehem where the world was seemingly oblivious to this event that altered human history.
As he goes on in his homily, the Pope Emeritus touches upon a rather innocuous verse that goes to the depth of what Christmas and the life of the Christian should be about:
“I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them? And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: “he came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1:11)… do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for God. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking?”
Yes, the question of God is no longer urgent because we simply do not have time for him. I’m always dismayed during Christmas Eve and Christmas of how people try to “squeeze” Mass in between their plans of unwrapping presents or dining as if Jesus is somehow an afterthought on his own birthday! If you are celebrating someone’s birthday, wouldn’t it be tops on your list to see the guest of honor? But do we have room at the inn? Do we have room in our hearts, in our homes, and in our lives for Jesus? Not just on this day but every day. Mary and Joseph needed to make more room for God because they basically surrendered their entire lives for Jesus and placed him at the center of their lives. As Christians, we are called to do the same. We are called to be like the shepherds who upon hearing the joyous news from the angel went in haste to see the Lord with what the Pope Emeritus called “holy curiosity” which leads him to wonder:
“In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us.”
As we begin this Christmas season, we pray for this “holy curiosity” so we may grow more in our faith and in the joy of knowing that this manger scene symbolizes how much God truly loves us. So on this Christmas, I leave you with two questions to ponder during this holy season: What space does Jesus Christ occupy in our lives? And when was the last time we went “in haste” to encounter God? If the world only knew what those shepherds discovered on that holy night in Bethlehem. If the world only knew the joy that comes from placing Jesus Christ first and at the center of our lives.
God bless you all,