December 24, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on Christmas Eve December 24, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the readings for Christmas Mass during the night: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; and Luke 2:1-14.
Even if we were not guided to this place tonight by a miraculous star, something has drawn us here on this holy night. Let us take a moment to sit in the stillness, to gaze on the manger scene.
Whatever brings us here tonight, may we experience God’s love as we celebrate this Christmas Mass and the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
And so, we bless our Nativity Scene. [From The Book of Blessings, p. 590.]
God of every nation and people,
from the very beginning of creation
you have made manifest your love:
when our need for a Savior was great
you sent your Son to be born of the Virgin Mary.
To our lives, he brings joy and peace,
justice, mercy, and love.
Lord, bless all who look upon this manger;
may it remind us of the humble birth of Jesus,
and raise up our thoughts to him,
who is God-with-us and Savior of all,
and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Let us celebrate that God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son to convey God’s message of love and mercy.
I’m forty-three years old. I’m guessing that I’m about the same age as St. Joachim, the father of Mary, at the time of the first Christmas. Now, if I learned that my unmarried daughter was pregnant, I don’t know how I’d react. If I were calm enough to ask, “How did this happen?” and she said, “I really can’t explain,” I surely would have gone through the roof.
And if my son-in-law-to-be couldn’t get his act together enough for my first grandchild to be born in a house, but that child had to spend his first days in a barn, I don’t think I would have felt a warm coziness. If I were an angel or a shepherd trying to explain why the King of the Universe had no cradle and why Mary and Joseph had no one around to support them in those first days as new parents, I’d be hard pressed to explain it in a rational way.
But thank goodness God’s ways are not our ways. A story that sounds like an abject failure by human standards… is the miracle of how’ve we come to understand who God is. God doesn’t wait for us to become perfect before he comes among us. God loves us as we are. God rushes to meet us, even when we think that we aren’t prepared.
As most of you know, St. Austin Parish is administered by my religious community, the Paulist Fathers. The Paulists also run a great website for young adults called BustedHalo.com. A favorite teaching video that they run every year is called “Advent in 2 minutes.” It claims: “Advent is NOT about shopping, stressing, planning, or buying. Advent is about expecting, waiting, hoping, and praying. If you’re sick of Christmas by December 25…[perhaps] you haven’t [celebrated] Advent correctly.”
Even if you feel that you didn’t celebrate Advent properly – or if you still have presents to order, like I do – it’s OK. We don’t have to be perfect to celebrate that God is with us. We don’t have to be perfectly prepared. All we have to be is human. We are not alone. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. God is with us.
It’s a long-standing tradition that the pope gives a major address to the Vatican Curia a few days before Christmas. What’s interesting, is that in the age of Pope Francis, the pope who preaches about love and mercy most of the time, usually makes this speech an exception. He usually challenges the subset of officials within the Curia who seem to hold up very secular and sinful values as policies to run their departments within the Vatican. In the name of efficiency, power, or tradition, there are some Vatican bureaucrats who seems to frustrate the Church’s ability to care for the poor and the marginalized.
But even here, in a speech about human failings, Francis found ways to talk about that our human flaws should not hold us back from attempting to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ. He shared this quotation by the late Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, MI:
Every now and then it helps us to take a step back
and to see things from a distance.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is also beyond our visions.
In our lives, we manage to achieve only a small part
of the marvelous plan that is God’s work.
Nothing that we do is complete,
which is to say that the Kingdom is greater than ourselves.
No statement says everything that can be said.
No prayer completely expresses the faith.
No Creed brings perfection.
No pastoral visit solves every problem.
No program fully accomplishes the mission of the Church.
No goal or purpose ever reaches completion.
This is what it is about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that others will watch over them.
We lay the foundations of something that will develop.
We add the yeast which will multiply our possibilities.
We cannot do everything,
yet it is liberating to begin.
This gives us the strength to do something and to do it well.
It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.
It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter
and to do the rest.
It may be that we will never see its completion,
but that is the difference between the master and the laborer.
We are laborers, not master builders,
servants, not the Messiah.
We are prophets of a future that does not belong to us.
We can’t save the world. But we don’t have to: by being born into our world, Jesus Christ has already guaranteed the future of creation. This Christmas, let us allow God’s grace to enter us, and let us allow God’s grace to do the work. Our job as disciples is simply to trust that in everything we do, God is with us.