Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Love made real!

I recently came across an old Family Circus comic that I had cut out that caught my attention.   In it, the young girl, Dolly, was sharing with her two young brothers the story of Christmas.  She told them, “Mary and Joseph were camping out under a star in the East…It was a Silent Night in Bethlehem until the angels began to sing…then Santa brought Baby Jesus in his sleight and laid Him in a manger… Chestnuts were roasting by an open fire and not a creature was stirring…so the Grinch stole some swaddling clothes from Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.”  Dolly breaks in to tell her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!”

Although Dolly got the details a bit mixed up, she’s right – pay attention or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!  How often we miss the story.  There is so much in this season that can distract us from what is real.  We get caught up in holiday parties, last minute shopping, and all of the frenzy that seems to come with this time of year.  Unless we truly pay attention – with our hearts and our minds – we may miss the true importance of this day.

A while back, someone sent me an email about a project where young people were asked to define love.  Some of the responses were great.  Karl, age 5, said, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on cologne and they go out and smell each other.”  Noelle, age 7, said, “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it, like, every day.” One young girl, Jessica, 8 years old, said, “You really shouldn't say ‘I LOVE YOU’ unless you mean it.  But if you mean it, you should say it a lot because people forget.”  My favorite answer came from Bobby, age 7, who said, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.”   Let me repeat that, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas, if you stop opening presents and just listen.”

Now, Bobby didn’t miss the meaning of this day.  The message of Christmas isn’t about giving and receiving presents or the food shopping and family gatherings, as wonderful as all of those things are.  The heart of this day is so much more simple and at the same time profound.  The message of this day is this – Jesus is real!  My brothers and sisters, Jesus is real and loves us dearly! 

God’s love for us is real, in fact, that He came to us in the form of one of us!  He came to us as a human being!  He took the form of a little baby, born of real parents, from a real human family.  He knows what it is like to be one of us.  That is the point of our Gospel reading today.  Our God is not a distant God, far away from our lives, far away from our joys, far away from our struggles.  He’s right here in the midst of them. He became flesh-and-blood just like you and me.  The long version of tonight’s Gospel starts with the genealogy of Jesus – a very long list of names.  But, it is a list that tells us something crucial – that Jesus didn’t just appear out of thin air.  He appeared in the world the same way we do – as part of a family – a family that begins Abraham, that includes David and Solomon, that ends with Joseph and Mary – one that includes us.  A real family with real people.

What does this day mean for us?  Well, it should mean nothing short of everything.  The birth of Jesus, God’s real and true presence in our world changes everything.  At this time of year I often think about the example of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  It was written of her that, “The meaning of her whole life was a person: Jesus. Hers was a Jesus-centered life.”  Today’s celebration reminds us that the same should be said of us.  The meaning of our lives must be Jesus.  We, too, must be Jesus-centered people!

In a letter, Blessed Mother Teresa once wrote, “I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus -- one to one -- you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in [church] -- but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus -- not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? ... Never give up this every day intimate contact with Jesus as a real living person.”

Bl. Mother Teresa knew the message of Christmas – she knew that Jesus is real.  Jesus was not a concept to her, just an idea, or a collection of actions or teachings or doctrines, or even the memory of an historical figure who lived long ago – Jesus was real and alive and active in her life.  And it showed in the way she lived her life.  She reflected Jesus in everything she said and did.

And this is the real and powerful message for each one of us in this Church today.  Christmas becomes nothing more than a commemoration of an historic event unless we let ourselves be open to Jesus being born again in our hearts.  Yes, Jesus was born a baby in a simple manger 2,000 years ago in the little village of Bethlehem.  But, even more momentous than that is the fact that Jesus wants to be born again tonight, right here in this Church, in our hearts!  A loving heart is the only manger Christ wants to come to this Christmas.  Your loving heart!

So, what is the meaning of this day for you?  Is Jesus real for you?  To the question: “Who is Jesus for me?” Mother Teresa said: “Jesus is the word to be spoken and the Life to be lived. Jesus is the Love to be loved and the Joy to be shared. Jesus is the Sacrifice to be offered and the Peace to be given. Jesus is the Bread of life to be eaten."  In short, Jesus is everything!   So, in the midst of all of the celebrations that we will enjoy and the gifts we will open, let us all remember one simple truth: that Jesus is, in fact, all that we could ever ask for and more importantly Jesus is all that we could ever need.

Let this miracle of Christmas Birth, this miracle of Emmanuel, God With Us, to be born in each one of us again today.  As we receive the same Jesus who is real, the Jesus who makes His presence known and felt in the Eucharist, let us all pray with simplicity, “Jesus, I welcome you as Mary, your mother, did; I love you with the all of the love in my heart.  Jesus, be born in me so that I may be a part of Your family, that I may be more like you.”

And let us heed the words of young Bobby, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

On behalf of Fr. Antonio, Fr. Claude and all the Franciscan priests of the North End, I wish you a holy and blessed Christmas.

Merry Christmas and may God give you His peace.

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