Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Homily

I have been listening to the words and prayers of many of you as Christmas approached. Some have said, “Christmas is a time of sorrow and sadness,” or “People here are hard on each other. Pray for kindness,” or “Christmas brings me down because I can’t be with my family.” I heard many other stories of heartache in the confessional and in personal sharing. Also, the plight of refugees and instability in neighboring countries cause concern for many. It weighed heavy on my heart and my realization of the Gospel words still need to ring true:  the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in gloom, a light has shone.” I realized Scripture needed to come alive today as it did over 2,000 years ago.

Mysteriously, the past several days have changed people. On Friday, a woman in her 60’s was rolling on the floor, squealing with delight, as she was playing games. She forgot her role in society and she became child-like. She had so much fun with her sisters as they played and sang and danced. Last night more laughter erupted because more games were played as a crowded room gathered to win gifts. It was the largest gathering of people that I've seen for a party. Visitors to the area and friends who have returned home were welcomed as family. A teenage boy, mostly shy and silent, approached me to say that this was an awesome party. He had great fun and his face was beaming. Then he gave me a big hug. A week ago, the best Christmas play was put on with children of many backgrounds dressed as adorable sheep, angels, and the holy family.

Organizers of the parties, with a worried look on their faces, nervously gazed at empty tables before mass and wondered how three meager dishes would feed 60 people. What relief they experienced when the tables magically overflowed right after Mass. From nowhere, treats appeared in abundance – treats that were made with affection and pride. Our 80 sisters in the shelter are now receiving canned-goods and non-perishable food so they can have something more substantial to eat each day. They are grateful for the generosity of the larger community – a generosity that is incomparable.

We changed around the music for our masses and I cannot keep our choirs from singing. They rise in the middle of the night trying to remember the tunes they are learning. They have been recognized by the larger cultural Amman community and have been invited to perform carols at many gatherings. I don’t know how they do it all. They are amazing. They are remarkable, and they have learned complex songs.

A woman approached me last night to ask why we can’t have similar parties four times a year. I replied, “We can. Let’s do it. I want you to enjoy each other.” Suddenly, the heaviness that weighed people down was being lifted from them. People all over the city are able to experience glimpses of real joy.

This is the meaning of Christmas. Our lives, whether we are rich or poor or somewhere in between, have their share of difficulty but that is not what we focus our eyes upon. We are gifts given to ourselves by God to share with others – to share our goodness, just as Jesus shares himself with us.

We focus upon the goodness that is happening before us and we see the best in others. We focus upon the gladness we have for being together and for enjoying one another’s company. We can be enriched by everyone – even by the person who greatly offended us. We notice the kindness and generosity of others and we let our hearts be touched in gentle ways. It is our task to let that gentleness grow into something much greater. It takes time, but we have to let our hearts be warmed to amazing actions of others. God is nestled into those areas of growth.

We may not have everything we want for Christmas – family, friends, opportunities, peace, but we do have each other. This is God’s great gift to us. God could have found any way to bring us to salvation, but he chose to give us a newborn baby. Why? So we could pick him up and hold him, and kiss him and hug him. We are not just to stand several feet away and look at him. We are to embrace him and pull him close to our hearts so he can feel the goodness we offer him. He needs this for his growth. Without love in infancy, he cannot grow up to give his life on the cross. He can only love later on in life because we loved him first in his life. He needs to know our love for him. Don’t just stand there. Go to the crib, pick him up, and bring him to your heart. Be amazed at his smile, his response to you, his fragrance, And if you can’t bring yourself to pick him up, hold something in your hand that is sacred. I hold onto this marble heart. I can carry it around in my pocket to remind me to always be kind and to find the goodness in others in my time of stress.

I invite you to look around the church today. Go ahead. Look at people who are near you and far away. We are all here for the same reason. God has touched our hearts by giving us Jesus and we want that joy always to remain within us. God wants to give us the joy of his abiding presence. God’s love for us unique and at the same time, the special way that God loves you is the same special way God loves that other person who you might not even notice. The good news is that God has not forgotten us. We may think we are nothing special, or that we don’t matter, or that others don’t really appreciate us, that we have nothing major to contribute, but God is telling us today – as every day – that we do matter so much to God. God wants us to receive his gracious love and share it with others – even those who are our adversaries or worse yet, those people to whom we do not pay attention.

Today is the day we have to let God spoil us rotten. Today has to be a new beginning. May it be the day when we experience an end to selfishness and the beginning of genuine fraternal care for one another. May it be the end of hatred, shame, and revenge and the beginning of a new love that enriches others and pays honorable respect without regard to status or place. May it be a day when falsehoods and deceits cease and the beginning of truth that does not tear down but builds up. May it be a day when sadness comes to an end, but a beginning of joy that shares itself in freedom and generosity. May it be a day when needless divisions that tear us apart gives way to a new beginning when we stand united because we are all equal brothers and sisters in God’s family. May we come to know and see and respect and honor and cherish everyone here. As we do that, we come to see Jesus more clearly.

Look at your neighbor again and let your warm love bubble up in affection for them. The Christ child is hidden there. Let his love grow and develop within you.

Merry Christmas!