Christmas: He Enters Our World To Draw Us Into
We gather in prayer on Christmas day to celebrate the center event of God’s creation. This is the Christ event. All creation leads to Jesus Christ. All creation takes its meaning from Jesus Christ. The Christ event begins with the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas, and concludes with His sharing His Spirit and the Spirit of the Father on Pentecost.
We have gathered to celebrate Jesus Christ. He enters into our world to draw us into His Presence.
The great promise to the people that God chose to be His own, the ancient Hebrew people, was that He would be their God and they would be His people. There are many places in the Hebrew scriptures where God renews this promise. The one passage most of us know so well is in Isaiah 7 when the prophet tells the King about the transformation of the world: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel, a name that means God is with us.” The second part of Isaiah speaks about the coming of Emmanuel as a time of peace. I am sure you also know this passage from Isaiah 40 very well, Handel framed it beautifully in his Christmas oratorio, The Messiah.
Comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"
The Christian Scriptures speak over and over about the fulfillment of these promises in Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus telling us: “Know that I am with you always until the end of time.”
And shepherds and Kings, and pagans and Jews are drawn into the Presence, the Presence in Bethlehem. And, we, whether we be rich or poor by the world’s standards, whether we be weak or powerful by the world’s standards, we are drawn into His Presence.
We are drawn into His Presence, and are drawn away from all that rejects His Presence. We are separated from the emptiness of a world that rejects God. We are called away. We are called to holiness; for to be holy is to be separate for the Lord.
And yes, you and I can be holy. We can be His People. The Divine Presence that gives meaning to our lives also gives us the power, the courage, the strength to walk away, to run away from the vacuum that so much of society has been sucked into, that I, that perhaps you, have often been sucked into. For when I choose to live for myself, when you choose to live for yourselves, we choose lives void of meaning, empty lives. But when I choose to live for others, when you choose to put others before yourselves, we choose lives that reflect the Presence of Love Incarnate, the Presence of Jesus Christ. We choose lives that are full, full of the Love of the Lord, full of meaning.
He gives us the power to step into His world, to leap into His world. He gives us the power to be holy.
Recently, a member of our parish of no small means told me that he wanted to go to Africa. I, with one foot still firmly planted in the world, asked him if he wanted to go on a Safari or just tour the many beautiful places of this continent. He responded, “No, Father, I want to go to Darfur or someplace where I can help the dying children.”
I thought he wanted to go to Jerusalem. But he wanted to go to Bethlehem.
Whether there are angels calling shepherds or a star appearing to Kings, or reports of people in dire need a continent away or in the house next door, or in our own homes, we are called to step away from our comforts and step into the Presence of the Lord. Christ identifies with those who are suffering. “I was hungry, or thirsty, a stranger, or naked, sick or imprisoned.” We are called to him. We are called to holiness.
Who is it in our families who need special care? Is it an elderly relative, sick, impatient, quarrelsome, helpless? Is it a husband or wife, brother or sister who is unsettled with life, and who dives into one disastrous experience after another? Is it a teen with difficult challenges or a child with special needs? They are there. Every family has members calling out to the rest for help, calling others into holiness.
Who is it in our parish who draw us to sacrifice and to service? Is it the women who come to our pregnancy center, the young who come to our school, religious education and youth ministry, the poor who come to community life, the sick and bereaved who come to Caritas, the community who calls us to share our talents in music ministry and other liturgical ministries? There are many who are calling us to be stewards of the treasures of our parish, calling us into holiness.
Who is it in the world who call us to care, to sacrifice, to love? The poor, the sick, the suffering are all calling us into holiness.
St. Francis of Assisi understood the message of the manger clearer than most. The world had little compassion for a young girl in labor. She was offered a spot in a stable, with the animals. There was no semblance of royalty about the scene, other than the royalty at its center. That was sufficient. The King of Kings was born into poverty to draw us away from the riches of the world and into His Presence. Francis saw this birth as a call to holiness, a call away from the world’s riches and a call to the wealth of the Lord. It was, of course, St. Francis who constructed the first nativity scene.
And so we greet one another today by saying “Merry Christmas.” Be merry, celebrate the birth of the Lord. Be joyful, not just because a baby was born 2,000 years ago, but because God has entered into our world to draw us into His Presence.
Merry Christmas, Be Joyful, for we have been chosen by the Son of God to be holy.