Can you honor Christmas in your heart, and keep it all the year?

Listen to mp3 file
Christmas, Vigil Mass: December 24, 2010
Isa 62:1-5; Ps 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matt 1:18-25

My brothers and sisters, Merry Christmas!

What a remarkable time of year this is! At what other time throughout the year does everyone, all at once: stop working and take time off, even a whole week or two; travel far away to visit relatives; or host relatives who came a long way to visit them; go to stores that they don’t normally go to; then what they buy they wrap up in colored paper and ribbons; go to lots of parties, including at work; and eat strange food and drink like fruitcake and eggnog?

What a time of year this is. And, in the midst of all this unusual activity, the focus is often on the children. For the children are awaiting: the arrival of a mysterious stranger, who is very powerful and very good and very wise, who comes from far away and brings amazing gifts, for them!

The children are awaiting the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God—God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God—all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing—who came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man, born this night in Bethlehem.

Oh, is that not what you expected me to say? Maybe the children are actually awaiting Santa Claus. Perhaps Santa is really the figure who fills their hopes and dreams right now. And whenever they catch a glimpse of that jolly red form, or of those colorful gifts piled under the tree—what wonder there is in their eyes! What delight! What joy and gratitude! Like all their dreams have come true.

And Santa at his best should be a figure who leads these children to the truth of Jesus Christ. A friend of mine has told her kids that Santa Claus is someone who helps the whole world to celebrate Jesus’ birthday in a really special way. May it be so! May Santa lead your children and your grandchildren to kneel at the manger—a manger like the one we have right here—and to gaze with wonder and joy upon the baby Jesus, the newborn Messiah, Christ the Lord.

Now it is fitting that we should associate Christmas with children, since on this night our Savior was born to us as a child—”the babe, the son of Mary.”

For from all eternity, the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, had been the Son, God the Son. He is begotten by God the Father. He is consubstantial with the Father: of the same nature, the same essence. What distinguishes him as Divine Person, the Second Person of the Trinity, is that he is the Son. It is this relationship of Sonship that makes the Son of God to be who he is. For he is the Son who receives everything from the Father, and gives everything back to the Father in love [Vita Consecrata, 16].

Why did that first Christmas happen, so many centuries ago? Why did the Word become flesh and make his dwelling among us? 1800 years ago, St. Irenaeus wrote:

For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.

The Son of God became the Son of man, lying in a manger, so that we might be united with him and be adopted as sons and daughters of God.

What a remarkable thought. What a remarkable gift.

Now Jesus showed us what it means for him to be Son of the Father throughout his entire earthly life. For he constantly spoke to us about the Father; and he constantly spoke to the Father, and we read throughout the Gospels of time after time when he slipped away at night so that he could have some quiet time to speak with his Father in prayer. He showed us what it meant to be the Son of the Father.

But he also showed us what it meant to be Son, by becoming our son. By becoming the Son of Mary; and the foster Son of Joseph; and by extension the Son of all of us, the Son of man, the Son of humanity. And he united himself with us by taking on our human nature, becoming consubstantial with us; and placing himself in our arms, dependent upon our care, asking for our love. And so as we look into Jesus’ newborn eyes, we begin to see what it means for him to be the Son.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus once called a child over, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matt 18:2-3] And this experience of becoming like little children again, at least for a while, is something that many people find so wonderful about Christmas; about this period of time we go through once a year. What is childlike about the celebration of Christmas?

  • Perhaps a sense of security and knowing that you are protected and loved.
  • A sense of wonder at sheer beauty and at the amazing surprises coming at any moment.
  • A sense of peace and love and good will toward everyone.
  • And the joy from receiving wonderful gifts; and also the joy in giving them.

This is what is childlike about Christmas. And so many people find this wonderful. And how many, sometime during this season, nearly every year, will say like Ebenezer Scrooge said at the end of “A Christmas Carol,” “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” To keep Christmas all the year; to have this feeling the whole year through: what a beautiful thought!

But does it work? How long does it take before that resolution gets thrown away, along with the dried-up tree and the torn-up wrapping paper? How long before all of those feelings have slipped away and instead you’re back to feeling afraid, alone; angry, selfish, mean; pushing others around; taking what you need; grabbing at tawdry pleasures? How long until you give up being childlike, and become all too childish—however young or old you may be?

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Can it be done? It can. It can be done! And the way you do it is with the help and grace of the Divine Child of Christmas—our Lord Jesus Christ. When you walk with him every day, and let him remake you as an adopted son or daughter of God the Father—in who you are and in how you live, every day, hour by hour, like he did—then the love and wonder and joy and giving of Christmas can be yours all the time, all year.

How does this work? How can this be yours? Let me give you a quick list of interlocking steps:

  • First, the sacrament of confession is an amazing place to be cleansed of all that childishness; and to leave instead with the light heart and clean spirit that you associate with Christmas. You can go to confession right after this Mass, in the room back there that will have the green light shining over it. And what if it’s been a while for you; maybe a long while? Then you will make my day. Please come. I’ll be going there right after Mass. And please make confession a monthly practice, if you want to keep Christmas all year through.
  • Secondly, every day you should set aside some time to be quiet and to be in the presence of our Lord; to speak with him in prayer; to listen to his word in Sacred Scripture. Make that time, even just a little, every day.
  • Third, here in our parish you can make a personal holy hour during Eucharistic Adoration, which is held all day every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. (Except next week because of the holidays; but all the rest of the year.) And there are many other opportunities to learn about your faith and to share with others, in different classes and meetings held here regularly.
  • And, fourth, of course, come to Mass—come to unite yourself to Christ—every Sunday without fail; and maybe even sometimes during the week.

These are some suggestions of how you can keep Christmas in your heart the whole year through. For you were made to know, love, and serve God; and you need that relationship with God in order to be fulfilled in who you are. If you have been baptized, you have been adopted as a son or daughter of God; and you need that daily relationship that Jesus showed us in order to be fulfilled in who you are.

Will you honor Christmas in your heart, and try to keep it all the year? You can, with the grace of the Divine Child of Christmas, our Lord Jesus Christ. You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord. You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God. … You shall be called “My Delight” … for the Lord delights in you.

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