Merry Christmas everyone! It is wonderful that we are gathered together on this feast day of unbridled celebration. It is a feast day of new life as we celebrate once again the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is my genuine prayer for all of you that you will be well-gifted by your families and friends. Most especially I pray during the Masses of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that the gift you will recognize and accept the gift we celebrate together: Jesus Christ.
What truly happened in that shed is so simple that we rarely think of it this way: God’s plan for humankind is now out in the open. It should be obvious and so very clear. What is before us at the moment itself but also again today is that the Son of God is come to this earth and is before us. This is not something new. From the days of the Old Testament God has been giving humanity advanced notice that a Messiah was coming. On Christmas we celebrate that God is speaking to us through his Son. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” The words from the Bible could not be any more direct or to the point. As you think about the manger scene, you know that this baby Jesus is touchable, a very human yet divine God. And we know again from the Old Testament prophets and from what we have learned from the New Testament testimony of Jesus himself and his followers that he has come to show each one of us the way of love is to be the way of life. Please catch that final clause in the last sentence: “that he has come to show each one of us the way of love is to be the way of life.” So what might we see as the God-gift to each of us on the Christmas feast day, 2011? Let me suggest for you a particular gift God might be giving you and me this year.
First, at a time when we know or know about so many men and women who are carrying the cross of Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia, should we not continue to think about the gift of memory. It is frightening to think about losing one’s memories. Some years ago, after having made two cross-country flights and then three north-south flights, I was driving on one of the many non-descript parkways just north of New York City. I was exhausted from all the travel but had one more appointment before taking a few days off. Suddenly as I thought about where I was, I could not remember where I was going, I did not recall what highway I was on. It was, as I said, frightening. Only a passing train that had Metropolitan New York Transit painted on the side, did I recall where I was and what I was supposed to be doing.
So Christmas brings with it many memories. Of course those memories of mixed with joy as well as sadness: a family broken by tragedy; a ruptured friendship; the pain of the loss of a loved one; the joy of marriages or new births in a family. God invites us on this special feast day to recall our failures and His graces to us. Christmas has always been one feast that, like a magnet, draws us ever closer to God through the Christmas hymns we here these days.
Perhaps God is giving you the gift of making a new memory by receiving from him the gift of a new beginning, of seeing life itself in a new way --even though it may be broken-- because the Child Jesus offers each of us a new beginning with him each year as we gather around the Bethlehem stable.
A second gift God might be offering us this year is the gift of glory. Of course we celebrate Christmas as a feast of glory, the glory of God, the majesty of God. Glory comes especially in the gift of the miracle of Bethlehem ... God comes among us as one of us. The Bethlehem night on Christmas was echoed the sounds of angels singing Glory To God in the Highest. Our hearts today and every day will be filled with the joy of glory is we try our best to avoid what is negative around us and if we do not worry so much about what we cannot control. Children teach us so much about this gift. Life for them is so free, so free of self-imposed boundaries. They are rarely afraid of taking risks. They constantly ask questions about what is around them: people, how things work and why things happen as they do. They are so fascinated by what we adults might call the mundane. Yes, each Christmas is an invitation to experience glory as God wants us to grasp this unique gift to us.
Lastly, but surely not the last of the many gifts of Christmas from Jesus Christ to us, is the gift of presence, not presents, but presence. Your presence today at this liturgy can be an experience of presence if you are free enough to open your heart to it. The people we love deeply the most, those who each day are touch-ably close and warmly near to us are so often the people who get the least of the gift of presence from us.
Each of these gifts is an invitation to newness that can make your lives so much fresher, so much happier if you are willing to accept the gift the Jesus Christ gives to you from his simple stable in Bethlehem.
I am grateful to Graceworks Publishers for some of the expressions and thought processes for this special day of gift giving.