Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Christmas Eve Homily--The Gift is Mine

It’s often said, “Christmas isn’t about the gifts.” You know what? I never really bought that as a kid and I don’t really buy it now. In a certain sense, Christmas is all about giving and gifts. Specifically, it’s about the Gift: Jesus Christ, God-made-man.

As I begin this homily, I want to address all of the children here. Now, my younger brothers and sisters, you know that Christmas is one of the happiest days of the year. It’s filled with cookies, toys, laughter, fun, hugs and all other sorts of happy things. It’s one of my favorite days of the year and is probably yours as well. But, I have to warn you that sometimes there is sadness and even tears on Christmas. Let me explain what I mean. You come running down the stairs at 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, or for those families that are lucky, 7:00 am. Your parents say, “Ok, take it easy, one gift at a time. Let’s go slowly.” But, of course, your deaf to all of this and you immediately start pummeling presents. One after another is torn from its wrapping, and you’re barely done unwrapping one before it’s on to the next. Then, you come across the present you desired so much or at least one that catches you off-guard by how cool it is. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice that your little brother or sister sees this present too, takes an interest in it, and comes waddling over. They politely ask, “Can I see it?” “No! It’s mine!” you respond. “But I just want to see it for a second.” As if it weren’t firm enough the first time, you reiterate, “I said it’s mine!” Then, suddenly, at 6:30 am on Christmas, the happiest day of the year, there are an abundance of tears.

I tell this story because that response, “it’s mine,” is actually true. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against sharing at all. But, who gives you a gift if they don’t want it to be yours? There’s something essentially true in the response of the six year old to his four year old sister. The gift is yours to have, to enjoy and to use.

On the subject of gifts, do you know who gave us the greatest gift ever? Mary, our Blessed Mother, gave us the gift which surpasses all gifts, that of Jesus Christ. Without Mary’s consent, God doesn’t become man; without her consent, Jesus is not born. When Mary freely consents to Gabriel’s request at the Annunciation, she allows salvation to come into the world. And who is this gift for? When we look at the manger scene, we a whole host of characters adoring the baby Jesus. Mary and Joseph are of course there. There are the shepherds, who are poor humble Jews. In a couple weeks, the Magi will be there as well, and they were rich powerful Gentiles. We see the animals surrounding the scene and the angels hovering above. In essence, there is a microcosm of all of creation to adore the newborn baby Jesus. Mary gives this gift to all of creation, to all of us. I can give a gift to a family member or even a group of people, but Mary alone is able to give a gift to all of creation. On this blessed night, we thank Mary who holds the savior as her gift to all of creation. People ask us why we love Mary so much. I think a good answer is that in a real sense, she gave us salvation. That’s a pretty good reason to love somebody.

Almost everything we say about Mary, we can say about the Church. For example, we say that Mary is holy. The Church is holy, as well (one of her four marks). Just as Mary is filled from her conception with the Holy Spirit, the Church is always filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary gives us Jesus, but the Church does as well. Through Mary, God gives us salvation, and through the Church, God offers us the same gift. Just as Mary gave us the gift of salvation some two thousand years ago, so the Church gives us that same gift of salvation today. Like the person who opens up their Christmas present and exclaims, “it’s mine,” so we can respond to that same gift of salvation offered us today. That gift is ours to possess, ours to enjoy, and use.

Let me give an illustration of what I’m talking about. The Charismatic Renewal emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit and his tangible, powerful presence in our lives. One of the ways the movement does this is through “praying over” people. The members lay hands on the person they’re praying over, and they call down the Holy Spirit, while uttering a prophetic word or maybe a Scriptural passage which may be relevant to the person. It can be a very powerful experience. A group of people were praying over me once, and one of them, a priest, said to me, “Dave, I think the Lord wants me to tell you something. He wants to let you know that he is yours.” I immediately thought that I must have heard wrong. He meant to say that I am God’s. I can understand that; I’m his because he made me. But the fact that the utterly transcendent God is mine seems too incredible. But that is exactly the case. God is mine. He is mine to possess and to love.

This is the novelty that comes about as a result of the Incarnation. The Jewish people knew that they were God’s and certainly had some idea that God was theirs. But the extent of the imtimacy, the depths of their possession of God, was beyond their (and anybody’s) ability to understand. The first reading reflects the notion that God will become ours in a profound and unimaginable way. “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” God uses the union of marriage as a symbol of the manner in which he will unite himself with us. Even marriage, through which man and woman become one flesh, is not capable of describing the depths of the mutual possession between God and man: we possess God and he possesses us. In the second reading, St. Paul describes the effect of baptism on the Christian: “He saved us . . . by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Even as the waters of baptism drip off us, and we dry off our heads, the Holy Spirit is poured more deeply into our souls—“richly,” as St. Paul says. The Holy Spirit, God becomes our possession, the gift poured into our hearts, at Baptism. He is ours to possess and we are to be possessed by him.

Like any gift, unless it is used it is so easily lost. Imagine opening a gift at Christmas, thanking the giver, and then setting it aside. Then you forget about it; you never use it or think about it again, or at least very infrequently. It’s likely that we’ll lose the gift. It’s no longer ours. This can happen so often with this priceless gift of salvation that we receive at Baptism. Unless our lives are centered on the sacraments; unless we have a relationship with God through daily prayer; unless we lead lives that are infused with faith, hope, and love, we can so easily lose that gift which we celebrate tonight.

On the positive side, the more we use the gift the more it becomes ours. Imagine opening a gift on Christmas, let’s say a Nintendo Wii. You play it for eight straight days. In the meantime, you don’t eat, drink, sleep or do anything else. Your friends think you’re crazy—and you are a little crazy. A friend comes over after eight days and watches you play a game on Wii. After watching you play, he’ll say, “Man, you own this game.” He’s right, the more we use a gift given to us, the more we own it, the more we enjoy it, the more it becomes ours. The goal of life is, to the extent that it’s humanly possible, to think as God thinks and love as God loves. This is possible, it’s our mission. It’s possible inasmuch as we possess God and let him work through us.

In the end, Christmas is all about gifts. It’s not about the toys, new clothes or gift certificates. It’s about the gift of Jesus Christ given to us through Mary and through the Church. It’s truly mine and truly yours. Let us seek to possess this gift all the more and let the gift possess us in love.

1 comment:

Thy Handmaid's son said...

Awesome homily, Deacon Dave.

Your revelation about God being "mine," makes me think of an analogous awakening that God gave me a few months ago. Very simply I remembered the Scripture passage, "even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many," (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45). It hit me like gentle thunder. He does NEED my service, and that's not why He came. He came because I need HIS service, and He wants to serve me. We hesitate at this fact, this horrifying fact, like Peter did when Jesus tried to wash His feet (Jn 13:8). But the simple fact is that unless we let Jesus wash our feet, we shall have no part in Him (Jn 13:8). That is humbling. Our pride, in some perverse twist, wants to say with Peter, "Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man," (Lk 5:8).

We mustn't let it.

Instead, especially this Christmastide, let's pray, "Come, Lord Jesus," (Rev 22:20) for I am a sinful man!