Christmas, Vigil Mass – December 24, 2018

Christmas is like no other time of the year – Christmas music and Christmas songs; homes decorated with lights and Christmas trees. Here in Church tonight – the music, the flowers, the singing of Christmas hymns, the crib and Jesus lying peacefully in a manger. We will hear the Christmas hymn as the angels foretold to the shepherds on Christmas night, Glory to God in the highest and Peace to people of good will.

I too greet you with these words, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to you on this Christmas night.  Christmas is a time of joy, a time of peace and a time to reflect on God’s gift. On this Christmas night, let us reflect on God’s Word. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty.”  The same sign has been given to us.  “God’s sign is simplicity…God’s sign is that He makes Himself small for us. He does not come with power…but comes as a baby… defenseless and in need of our help.” God simply asks for our love, so He makes Himself a child.  He wants nothing from us, only our love. Christmas has become the feast of gifts in imitation of God’s gift; the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

During these last few days you have been busy with such tasks as gift buying, preparing lists of things to do and things we still have not done. I can only invite you to let go of all these concerns. Take a moment to reflect on the real meaning of these traditions.

Allow me to share a few of my favorite Christmas stories. The little boy who went to Church the day after Christmas and took the baby Jesus for a ride in his new Red Rider wagon. When stopped by the pastor and asked what was he doing with the baby Jesus?, he simply replied, “I promised baby Jesus if I got a Red Rider wagon for Christmas, He would be the first person I would give a ride to.”  I think that little boy got the Christmas message.

Families love to come to Church at Christmas with their small children to see the crib. Some come when the Church is quiet, so they can an explain and share with their children the Christmas story. I often find a small Christmas toy in the crib with Jesus. The parents tell me that their children insisted that baby Jesus got nothing for Christmas, so they left one of their gifts. Children capture the message of Christmas and can teach us in small ways the meaning of Christmas.

Scott Hahn, a great Catholic writer, tells a story of taking his children to Bethlehem for Christmas. He and his wife were so preoccupied with visiting the site of the birth of Jesus that one of their daughters, Hannah, was missing when they came out of the Church. Their tour guide told them she had gone across the street to an orphanage. Like any parents, they were not happy.  Then, they saw Hannah holding a tiny baby in her arms. Scott Hahn said, “As I watched Hannah, radiant in that chair with the baby in her arms in Bethlehem, I thought of another teenage girl who found fulfillment in Bethlehem with a baby in her arms. Everyone who saw her remembered her radiance and after thousands of years still remember her, her name is Mary.” That’s what Christmas is all about remembering the little things of life.

If we want to understand or appreciate Christmas and its message, it may not be revealed in an intellectual pursuit, but it can be revealed in the simple and ordinary moments of our lives. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, a spiritual writer reminds us, “We pray for visions but seldom watch a sunset. We marvel at the gift of tongues but are bored listening to babies. We desire proofs for the existence of God even as life in all its marvel continues all around us. We tend to look for God everywhere, except in the place where incarnation took place … our flesh.”

Pope Francis said, “In this Child, God invites us to be messengers of hope.” Christmas is about wonder, beauty, life and mystery. Unless we allow ourselves to experience wonder, beauty, and life’s mystery, how can we understand God or the message that His Son Jesus was born for you and me to become our Savior.

In the Gospel, the shepherds are keeping watch over their sheep. Maybe we can learn from the shepherds. One of my favorite experiences is to look up at the sky at night to breathe in the beauty of the stars and the vastness of the universe. This peacefulness and beauty recalls the wonder and glory of God’s creation; no matter how small or insignificant we may feel we are part of God’s creation too. Like the shepherds in the Gospel, we hear that the glory of the Lord shone around them. Suddenly all this peacefulness and beauty is broken by an angel of the Lord; who appeared to the shepherds; they were struck with great fear. The angel reassured them, “Do not be afraid for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy; today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is the Christ and Lord.” When the angel left them, the shepherds said to one another “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  Are we ready to go and see; are our hearts and minds ready to hear this good news of great joy?

Christmas is like no other time of the year. The angels sang “Glory” because God’s highest glory came down on earth to be shared with you and me. Christmas makes us different and sets us apart because we have heard good news of great Joy. Pope Francis in Evangeli Gaudium writes, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”

I pray this Christmas that you may encounter the Word made flesh where the mystery of God is revealed in those simple but special moments of ordinary life – like the shepherds on the hillside watching their sheep, the little boy with his Red Rider wagon or a child who reveals to you the mystery of life like Hannah did for her dad. Allow yourselves to be open any time any place to the gift of God’s presence; which is the ultimate gift of Christmas because God is love.

St. James Cathedral, Orlando