Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Year B

Monday, December 25, 2017
Fr. Jon
Homily transcription: 

     Five years ago a book came out that has been widely read by many in the Church and changed our conversations with each other.  It is called Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell.  The first chapter is entitled "God has no grandchildren" and speaks of significant changes happening in the Church today.  We are moving away from cultural Catholicism and toward a more intentional Catholicism.

     She quotes from a recent Pew Research study, and there is one statistic that I find astonishing and distressing.  It says only 48% of Catholics in the United States today think it is possible to have a personal relationship with God.  Only 48%?  How did that happen?  How did we get so far off track?  Half of us say we believe in God, but only has am impersonal force up there or out there.  

     I could understand this more if this was a survey of religions other than Christianity.  But at the heart of our Christian faith is the Incarnation, is Christmas, is the conviction that God who created the vast universe humbled himself to become the baby in the manger.  The Word become flesh, God became a human being.  So in Jesus, God walks with us, suffers with us, understands us, teaches us, loves us, and in the end, even dies for us.

     Why would God do something so unthinkable?  He came to us so that we would come to him.  He did this because he wants to be in a personal relationship with each person in the church this morning.

     It makes a huge difference if God is an impersonal force, or if we have a personal relationship with him.  In many years of working with college students, I see that shift happen in some of our students each semester.  And it is a thrill to see every time I see it.  I often hear stories that say I grew up Catholic, but all the rules and rituals seemed like an end in themselves. It is just what we do.  Now rules and rituals are needed, but they are good only insofar as they lead us to a personal relationship with the Lord.  Without pointing to that relationship, they are empty.

     Many of us grew up in the same way. Our parents and others hard wired us for faith.  But something needs to happen in our lives to flip the switch so that the lights come on.  That something that needs to happen usually involves the experience of failure, of great disappointment, of utter heartbreak. In those moments, with God's grace can flip the switch, the lights go on, and people are transformed into a new creation.

     We have events here called Come Awake, which I think are awesome. In the last one this semester, a student spoke of the shift in her life from a theoretical to a personal God.  What happened in her life is life changing and life shaping.  What happened was that other students reach out to her, and she learned to pray, not just to say prayers but to talk with the Lord and listen to the Lord. She accepted the challenge to read a bit of Scripture each day, and now if often at daily Mass.  In her talk, she said that each time she receives Holy Communion, she feels Jesus personally touching her, and coming into her heart.  This makes sense, since Jesus is born again on our altar at every Mass.  Other students can see in her face, and see in her life, that something beautiful has happened.

     Only 48% of us get this.  So I have been wondering why that is.  The possible answer is something I received in the mail this week.  It is a newsletter, and on the front of it is a drawing entitled the anonymous innkeeper.  We see Mary and Jesus outside a door.  The innkeeper has a caption above him that simply says, "Sorry, we're full," as he closes the door.

     Perhaps that is the biggest obstacle we have in coming to know the Lord.  We're full.  We're full of our opinions and agendas, of our busyness and activities, and mostly of our egos.  So when Jesus comes and knocks on our door, like the innkeeper, we simply state, "Sorry, we're full."

     When that student spoke about how Jesus entered her life, it did not just happen to her.  She had to be open to something new, to something better.  She had to actively seek this out.  And she had to empty her life so that there was room in the inn.

     This night, this year, this Christmas, is an opportunity to know the Lord in a new and deeper way.  The God we gather to worship tonight is not some impersonal force up there and out there.  He is the baby in the manger.  Only Christians dare to believe this.  Christmas shows how far the Lord is willing to go to be in a personal relationship with us.  When that happens, the switch is flipped, the lights go on, and something beautiful happens in our lives.

     The Word became flesh.  God become one of us. Because of this, and only because of this, we can have great hope not only in communion with the Lord in eternity, but in a personal relationship with him now.