Monday, December 24, 2007

A part of God's family

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, December 25, 2007:

On behalf of Fr. Mike and myself, again, let me wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Over the weekend, as I was greeting people at the end of Mass, I conducted a very informal poll asking lots of our parish kids what they were hoping to find under the Christmas tree this year. Some of the answers were: a Helix remote control helicopter, which actually look very cool, a Wii video game system, an iPod, Guitar Hero, an iPhone. I know my nephew wants an authentic Star Wars lightsaber (he was very specific that it be authentic), and my nieces are all about Elmo. I wish you all the best of luck in finding what you really wanted under your Christmas tree this year. When I think back on all the Christmases I have celebrated, and this is my 39th, I really can’t recall too many of the presents – even though I’m sure that each year the thing I wanted was something I was certain that I could not live without. I remember one year that we woke up to find two Huffy dirt bikes, one for me and one for my brother. I remember another year that I woke up to find an electronic keyboard under the tree – I had asked Santa for a grand piano, but he left a letter explaining it wouldn’t fit down the chimney and he hoped the keyboard would suffice.

But, of all my Christmases, it is not the gifts I remember, but it is the times with family. In my family, Christmas has always been celebrated at my parents house. Later tomorrow, we will have dinner for about 45 people. It is a mad house, but it is so much fun. Mom will be running around wearing one of her crazy Christmas hats that must have minimally blinking lights and some sort of noise, making sure that everyone has what they need. Aunt Mary will bring her string bean casserole, my cousin Peggy will bring the bread, Aunt Gail is in charge of pies. We’ll light the candles on Jesus’ birthday cake and sing him happy birthday before the smallest kids in the family get to blow out the candles. We will endure the mandatory Christmas sing-a-long before we get to the annual Christmas present swap. People will come and go all day and into the night and it will be a wonderful day of family.

Now the memories I have about family times throughout the years are many. I remember my grandfather’s last Christmas before he passed. He had not been doing well and I think everyone was grateful for the time with him. I remember they year my first niece was born and how all of a sudden Christmas was reborn as a child’s experience in my family because of that beautiful little baby. I remember the year when I was a novice, my second year in religious life, I didn’t think I’d be home for Christmas that year, but my superior let us go home at the last minute. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming and it was a wonderful surprise. I treasure last year’s Christmas when just a month before my father found out he needed to have triple bypass surgery. At 69 year’s old, my Dad finally became a baptized Catholic. Imagine that Christmas present – a son who has the incredible honor of baptizing his father. The surgery went well and I think we were all aware that year of just what a gift Dad is.

And, I’ll never forget the year, when I was about 10 years old. It was a tough year for our family. My Dad was a truck driver and this was during the oil crisis of the 1970s and he had been out of work for two years. I’m sure my parents did all they could to scrape together enough for us to have a nice Christmas that year. But then, our neighbors a few doors down had a fire in their home and lost all of their Christmas presents. My Dad called us all together for a family meeting and suggested that we give all the presents under our tree to that family who had nothing – since we still had each other and our comfortable home. It must have been a Christmas miracle, because somehow my brother, sister and I all knew right away it was the right thing to do. We offered no protest and were all excited to be able to bring some joy into the life of this family. It was a reminder that there is always some one worse off than you, and that no matter how difficult things might be in your own family, there are also so many blessings. That is the one Christmas that always stands out in my mind more than the rest. And, that was the year without Christmas presents. It is also the year that I learned that as great as it is to receive presents; that doesn’t compare to the joy of giving presents.

As I share these memories with you, I hope your minds and hearts are filling with the joy of family memories at Christmastime too. After all, that is what we are all gathered here to celebrate. God, also knows the joy of giving presents. Our celebration today is a celebration of the greatest gift that God ever gave us – the gift of Himself. And, it is a gift of family. In the birth of Jesus, we celebrate the fact that Jesus, that God, enters our human family; and perhaps even more wondrously, He invites and adopts us as members of His family. Of all of the incredible titles for Jesus we hear at this time of year – Wonder Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Son of God – the most wondrous one is that Jesus let’s us call Him brother. Jesus is your brother, my brother. And He came to tell us that God is not a distant figure in our lives, remote and unapproachable, but God is our Father, and the term that Jesus uses is so personal. Abba means literally Daddy.

And we gather here today, not as strangers, not as members of a common organization, but as brothers and sisters. The person to your left and right, in front of you and in back – on the other side of the Church – is not a stranger. He is your brother. She is your sister. We are all family to one another. This is the great gift that God gives to us this year and every year.

As we celebrate this wondrous feast of Christmas, let us all be filled with warm thoughts of family. Our family at home, and our family of faith right here in this Church. The fulfillment of Christmas will come when there will be only one family united in perfect love and joy in Our Father’s house. Until then, let us anticipate that moment surrounded by our loved ones or those thoughts that bring them close to heart.

I pray that you have a wonderful, family-filled experience of Christmas.

My brothers and sisters, Merry Christmas and may God give you His Christmas peace.

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