When you look around you at our modern culture, how much do you see that testifies to fact that we profess Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Savior? How many crèches do you see outside anymore? How much is Jesus talked about on the radio and television? If I hear about him at all, it is often negative rather than positive. It has become illegal in many places to put up the commandments, or pictures of Jesus or the crucifix. Merry Christmas has become “happy holidays.” Quite literally as if our culture is trying to stamp out the memory of Christ completely, or if we think of him, forcing us to think of him as a myth or relic of ancient times when people were not so enlightened and advanced as we are now. And yet here we are, nearly 2,000 years after his death, gathered around this altar to stoke the embers of our faith into a flame. When Jesus Christ himself is telling his apostles about when he will come again, he actually sadly raises this question: “When the Son of Man comes again, will he find any faith left on earth?”
I don’t say that to be negative. I say that to be real. Because we don’t find that here. This church is full.
I think that he is happy to find it here. So I am glad you are here, and welcome. We are all here for different reasons, and we all have different levels of faith. Some believe strongly. Some are barely hanging on. Some have been nearly dragged here by demanding relatives. Doesn’t really matter right now. What matters right now is that we try the best we can to make room for the nativity of Jesus Christ in our hearts.
All of us should be models of Mary in one way or another. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that Mary was so pure, and her “yes” to God so complete, that she bore the son of God and gave him to the world. Did you know that you were supposed to do that, too? All of us were born for one reason – so that Jesus might be born again in each and every one of us, each in his or her own special way. As a priest, my yes to God gives birth to the sacraments, and to teaching the faith. That is how my “yes” can give Jesus to the world. A parent has children, and can pass down her faith to her children, giving birth to Jesus in the world. We are all given special talents that were themselves gifts given to us by God, and we are meant to use those – spreading the kindness and mercy and truth and love of Christ in our workplaces, homes, stores, and neighborhoods. This is really supposed to be the whole point of life.
We are all accustomed to giving and receiving gifts for Christmas. Christmas in its real meaning is when we realize that the greatest gift of all is that God himself was born as a man so that human beings might learn how to be God’s friend again.
I would like to focus on one thing about the Christmas story. It’s not easy at all to preach on Christmas, because there is so much – but I only have so much time, so I have to go with my inspiration and focus on what I think that God wants me to focus on.
One thing that I’d like to mention about the Christmas story is just a point I find interesting from the perspective of gender. When it comes to accepting the birth of Jesus, Mary represents woman and Joseph represents man. I find it interesting that woman is asked whether or not she wants to participate in this great event, and Joseph is COMMANDED to participate in this event. Poor Joseph is pulled around in all sorts of directions, and he obeys because he is a just man. He is a good man. And he sees that this is what is necessary. But woman needs to be asked. I’m gonna leave the rest of that one alone for you to argue about in the car later on the way home.
This is what the angel says to Joseph. Please listen closely, because the angel tells us why Jesus is being sent to us:
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
Now think about this – what is the reason given for the birth of Jesus Christ? Is it to come and teach us? Is it to talk about love? Is it to heal wounds? Jesus did all these things, but this is not the reason given directly by the angel for his birth. The reason given is that HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. Couldn’t the angel Gabriel have given a different reason? But what does he focus on?
He focuses on forgiveness. The gift of forgiveness. You just heard the angel Gabriel talk about it. This isn’t just my opinion. You just heard it straight from the mouth of the angel Gabriel, didn’t you? Jesus saves us from our sins because he forgives us of our sins. He saves us from our sins because he sacrifices himself for the sake of our sins.
Why is this important for Christmas? Well, first of all because it is part of the Christmas story that we might never have thought of before. We are all in the mode of giving gifts, right? Ever thought that God might not want a present this year? Or that there are presents that we could give to each other that far exceed the value of anything you can buy at the mall? What is more priceless than forgiveness? It is priceless because it is a gift of love.
And my friends, I’m not talking about forgiving somebody of something minor. I mean forgiving someone for betrayal. Forgiving someone for breaking your heart. Forgiving someone for leaving you alone when you needed them most. The gift of sacrificing yourself instead of being selfish, even if you are innocent. EVEN IF YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT. The process of forgiveness needs to start somewhere. Jesus was innocent, but he still paid the price. Are we willing to do the same? Seriously, think for a moment about something that you still need to forgive. Something that still sticks in your craw about a spouse or a child or a parent or friend – something that when you remember it, it still feels bitter and leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Why not give THAT to God for Christmas? Why not give that gift to this person who has wronged you? Could there really be a more important gift, considering that that is why we have the story of Christmas to begin with?
I know this is difficult. As a matter of fact, when it comes to certain things, forgiveness is impossible. Impossible, at least, for human beings. But possible with God. There are some people who have done terrible things to me in my life. And when I find it hard to forgive them personally, I start with at least asking God to forgive them. Maybe it’s too much for you right now. Well, start by at least wishing them well. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “To love means loving the unlovable. Faith means believing the unbelievable… and to forgive means to pardon the unpardonable.” Open your heart for a little baby in a manger to fit inside.
I want you to imagine for a moment that your heart is like a manger – a manger is a feed box for animals, in case anyone doesn’t know. If we fail to forgive, our hearts are full of dirty feed and hay and wordly things. If we forgive, then there is actually room for the baby Jesus to be laid there instead. It may be a simple image – even a silly one. But I don’t think that Jesus finds it so silly.
Is it such a coincidence that there is a close relationship between the word “give” and “for-give.”???? It is not such a stretch at all for us to be talking about forgiveness on the primarily holiday where we give gifts to one another? The literal meaning of the word “forgive” to “to give up” or “to give away.” We give away our grudge against them, whether they deserve it or not. To forgive means to accept the apology that you might never get.
We didn’t deserve Christmas, but we got it anyway. Jesus came anyway.
You know, it’s a strange thing that after this all of you will go to your homes to celebrate Christmas – and Christmas began with a poor, homeless family. That is something that we should never forget. There is an element of seriousness to Christmas that is getting buried beneath discarded wrapping paper, and hiding behind the dishes on the table – It’s the truth that God became a tiny child so that he could grow up to be a man so that he could give us the gift of the forgiveness of our sins. It’s all there hiding in a tiny manger, as we hear again the words of an angel:
Mary will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST.