Saturday, December 24, 2011

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

I don’t know how many of you read the comic strip, Family Circus, but I’m a big fan. Just a few years ago, there was a great Christmas scene. In it, the young girl, Dolly, was sharing with her two young brothers the story of Christmas. Here is how she recounted it, “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 the Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.” And then Dolly says to 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 – if we don’t pay attention we might just miss the real story of Christmas. 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 importance of this day.

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 the birth of Jesus, everything is changed – for our world and for each of us. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of this season, we can be like little Jeffy and fail to learn the true story of Christmas. Our world can tempt us to lose sight of what we gather here to celebrate – the incredible reality that our God became one of us; the Lord of the Universe so humbled Himself to be born a defenseless little child. We need to remember always 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. In my own life, when I was praying about my vocation to the priesthood, I was trying to decide if God was really calling me. I would often hear other young men 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 a little angry with God, demanding a sign. I prayed, “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?” Now, 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 because He’s already given to each of us the greatest sign possible – His Son.

Today we celebrate this great sign – God 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. 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 relationships, 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? The answer is in the word “JOY” itself. Just look at it. It’s a small word – just three letters: first J, then O, and lastly Y. Well, let me propose tonight that the J stands for Jesus, the O for Others, and the Y for You. So, to know joy in our lives is simple. Just live in such a way that Jesus and Others always come before You. Place Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem, 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, even as we hear the great story of Christmas tonight, we see this principle in action - 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. Just 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.”

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

On behalf of Fr. Giles, Deacon Ernie, and our parish staff, let me wish you all a happy and holy Christmas!
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.

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