+ Last night, before our Christmas Eve Mass, I was talking to a parishioner about the pitfalls of being an extrovert. A lot of people don’t talk about there being pitfalls to being extroverted. But for me, I climb the walls when I can’t be around people. I find a good amount of energy from being around people.
Yesterday morning and during the day, I was just…down. I was feeling run-down. I was emotional. Christmas does that to me. And by the time Christmas Eve Mass started rolling around, I thought to myself: how am I going to muster the energy for this?
And then…people started rolling in. Let me tell you: people started rolling in! And we ended up breaking our Christmas Eve attendance record (at least going back to 1988).
As the church filled up to the rafters, and the temperature from all those people started to rise, I found myself invigorated and rejuvenated.
As a result, I had trouble settling down last night. I went over to my mom’s and opened presents. I came home and lit the Menorah for the first night of Hanukkah. And I tried to sleep. But I was too wound up.
I felt great!
It just goes to show you: I really am a church geek. I love being in church. I love being around people. And this morning, even though I knew we wouldn’t be getting a huge crowd of people, I was still pretty excited.
I especially love the Christmas morning mass. The world seems to pristine, so new. And one of my greatest pleasures as a priest, is to celebrate the Eucharist with you on this morning that is, in its purest sense, holy.
Christmas Day Mass!
I also understand the tendency we all have of getting caught up in society’s celebration of Christmas. It’s easy to find ourselves getting a bit hypnotized by the glitz and glamour we see about us. I admit I enjoy some of those sparkly Christmas displays. I understand how easy it is to fall to the temptations of what the world tells us is Christmas.
But what I think happens to most of us who enjoy those light and airy aspects of Christmas is that we often get so caught up in them, we start finding ourselves led astray into a kind of frivolousness about Christmas. We find ourselves led off into a place where Christmas becomes fluffy and saccharine and cartoonish. Christmas becomes a kind of billboard. That, I think, is what we experience in the secular understanding of Christmas time. The glitz and the glamour of the consumer-driven Christmas can be visually stunning. It can capture our imagination with its blinking lights and its bright wrapping.
But ultimately it promises something that it can’t deliver. It promises a joy and a happiness it really doesn’t have. It has gloss. It has glitter. It has a soft, fuzzy glow. But it doesn’t have real joy.
The Christmas we celebrate here this morning, in this church, is a Christmas of real joy. But it is a joy of great seriousness as well. It is a joy that humbles us and quiets us. It is a joy filled with a Light that makes all the glittery, splashy images around us pale in comparison.
The Christmas we celebrate here is not a frivolous one. It is not a light, airy Christmas. Yes, it has a baby. Yes, it has angels and a bright shining star. But these are not bubblegum images.
A birth of a baby in that time and in that place was a scary and uncertain event.
Angels were not chubby little cherubs rolling about in mad abandon in some cloud-filled other-place. They were terrifying creatures—messengers of a God of Might and Wonder.
And stars were often seen as omens—as something that could either bring great hope or great terror to the world.
The event we celebrate this morning is THE event in which God breaks through to us. And whenever God beaks through, it is not some gentle nudge. It is an event that jars us, provokes us and changes us.
For people sitting in deep darkness, that glaring Light that breaks through into their lives is not the most pleasant thing in the world. It is blinding and painful. And what it exposes is sobering.
That is what Jesus does to us. That is what we are commemorating today. We are commemorating a “break through” from God—an experience with God that leaves us different people than we were before that encounter.
What we experience is a Christmas that promises us something tangible. It promises us, and delivers, a real joy.
The joy we feel today, the joy we feel at this Child’s birth, as the appearance of these angels, of that bright star, of that Light that breaks through into the darkness of our lives, is a joy that promises us something. It is a teaser of what awaits us. It is a glimpse into the life we will have one day. It is a perfect joy that promises a perfect life.
But just because it is a joyful event, does not mean that it isn’t a serious event. What we celebrate is serious. It is an event that causes us to rise up in a joyful happiness, while, at the same time, driving us to our knees in adoration. It is an event that should cause us not just to return home to our brightly wrapped presents, but it should also send us out into the world to make it, in some small way, a reflection of this life-changing joy that has come into our lives.
Throughout Advent I have been re-reading Advent of the Heart by Alfred Delp, a young German Jesuit priest who was killed by the Nazis on
2, 1945. This is one of
those books that has moved me to my very soul.
My copy of the book is almost falling apart, I’ve read it that
much. In the book, there is wonderful
Advent play Delp wrote for children about ten years before his death. It ended
with a monologue that captures perfectly a Christian understand of what Christmas
Delp wrote at the end of his play:
“That is Christmas—that a hand from above reached into our lives and touches our hearts. That is Christmas, not the other things. My friends, believe it, we have to suffer a lot and hang on. Only then is it Christmas.
“Christmas is a not a sweet fairytale for little children—for happy nurseries…Christmas is serious—so serious—that [people] gladly—die for it. —Tell everyone—many things have to change—first—here—inside…
“Christmas means that God—touches us, —that [God]—grasps our hands—and lays them—on—[God’s]—heart. —That God comes—to us—and sets us free. —Tell everyone—the other isn’t Christmas, —only this—is—Christmas, —that—God—is—with—us.”
Today is one of those moments in which true joy and gladness have come upon us. That’s what makes this a holy time.
So, cling to this holy moment. Savor it. Hold it close. Pray that it will not end.
And let this joy you feel this morning be the strength that holds you up when you need to be held.
Today, God has reached out to us. God has touched us. God has grasped our hands. Our hands have been laid on God’s heart. This is what it is all about. God is here, among us.
This feeling we are feeling right now is the true joy that descends upon us when we realize God has come to us in our collective darkness. And this joy that we are feeling is because the Light that has come to us will never, ever darken.