Friday, December 25, 2009

"See here, this boy was born and that changed everything."


As I was preparing for today’s Christmas Mass, a movie scene came to mind. It is from Steven Speilberg movie of a number of years ago called, Amistad. This movie is about a group of slaves who were able to win their freedom from slavery in the Supreme Court long before slavery was abolished in this country. It is a powerful movie. But, there is one point in the movie when a slave is given a copy of the Bible by an Abolitionist. The slaves, though, speak no English and have never heard of Jesus Christ and so he doesn’t know what this book is. But, this version of the Bible had pictures in it. The man was fascinated looking at these pictures. At one point in the film, two of the slaves are sitting alone in their jail cell, waiting. One slave thinks that the other one carries the book everywhere simply to impress people and he says to the one looking at the Bible, “No one is watching you here, you can put the book down.” The other one responds saying, “No, I think I have figured out the story.” Pointing to the pictures he says, “See, here, things were very bad for these people, it was a dark time, and they were oppressed. Worse even than us.” He flips a page to the scene at the manger in Bethlehem, “But, see here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” Referring to the drawing which depicts Christ with a halo he said, “You can see that he was very important, even the sun followed him where ever he went.”

“See here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” My friends, this is the great message of the feast we gather here to celebrate today. With Jesus, everything is changed. Christmas isn’t about presents and extravagant family dinners – as wonderful as those are. We see the signs and bumper stickers everywhere that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” but we also endure what can be a very un-Christian experience of visiting a Mall to do Christmas shopping. Need I say more? In the midst of all the hustle and bustle we can be tempted to lose sight of what we gather here to celebrate – the incredible reality that our God became one of us, the incredible event of our salvation. We need to remember always – perhaps now more than ever – that nothing can ever take away the wonder of that event.

We often find ourselves looking for signs. We want God to show us the way, to give us a sign that he loves us. There was a time in my own life, before I became a priest when I was praying about my vocation, trying to decide if God was calling me into the priesthood and religious life. On retreats, I would hear other guys talk about how God had told them this, or how they received a sign for that. I went to church one day to pray and I was being a very typical Thomas, demanding a sign from God. “Why can’t you give me a sign? Is that too much to ask for God?” After leaving the Church, I was driving home when all of a sudden I passed a billboard that said, “Are you looking for a sign from God?” Of course the rest of that sign read, “Join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” I didn’t take that sign literally to mean I should become a Mormon, but rather to stop asking for such things from God.

What we celebrate today is the greatest sign that God could ever give us – Himself, in the form of a little baby born in a humble manger; the Light of the World that shone in the darkness; the Word become Flesh; the Savior of US ALL. It is in fact the greatest sign of God’s love for us. As we hear in John’s Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” No matter what trials we have in our personal lives, in our relationship, marriages, in our families, our work lives, this Son of God has come to triumph over them all. He can make everything right again in our lives, His Light can shine in our darkness – if we let him.

That is why we celebrate this day with such joy. We gather to hear this Good News of great joy that God showers on the world at Christmas. But, we still need to do something so that we can experience this joy in our lives, in our families, and in our world more personally.

How do we do that? Well, it is easier to explain than to practice – so I'll explain. Just look at the word JOY. It’s a small word – just three letters: first J, then O, and lastly Y. Well, let me propose that the J stands for Jesus, the O for Others, and the Y for You. Joy therefore is: Jesus and Others, before You. To know joy in our lives we need to place Jesus first in everything. When we place Jesus first, he encourages us to place others before ourselves. And that is the recipe for true joy. That is how we can convert the Christmas “Joy to the world” into a personal “Joy in our lives” now and always.

So, as hear the great story of Christmas once again, we would do well to pay attention to the various people mentioned and see whether they place Jesus and others before themselves, or whether they seek their own interests first. You will discover that those who practice J-O-Y are the ones who enjoy peace and joy, and that those who practice “me first” are always the unhappy and miserable ones. Here are a few examples.
On one side we have the innkeeper who turned Joseph and Mary out in the cold night while he enjoyed the warmth of his inn. And then there's Herod who wanted above all else to preserve his position as king, to the point that he was prepared to kill Jesus and others. These people would never experience the JOY of the Good News. But, on the other side, look at the shepherds who leave everything they own and their flock in the fields to go adore Jesus first. Or the wise men from the East who leave the security of their homeland and make a long and dangerous journey to Bethlehem just to worship the new-born Jesus and bring him gifts. They are the one's who receive God's favor, they are the ones who experience in their hearts the true peace and the true JOY of Christmas.

My brothers and sisters, today – this Christmas – let us resolve to follow their good example by always being people of JOY – placing Jesus and others before ourselves and then the true joy of Christmas will always be ours. This is the Christmas story that we all must learn by heart, in our hearts.

“Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

“See here, this boy was born and that changed everything.”

On behalf of Fr. Antonio, Fr. Claude, myself and the parish staff, let me wish you all the happiest and holiest Christmas.

Buon Natale, Merry Christmas and may God give you peace.

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