Christmas is, for Christians, the central sign of God’s closeness to us. In Christ God took on our flesh to show us how much we are loved and accepted even with our confusions, muddles, and sin. Christ’s Church exists to carry on that message of God’s loving acceptance. And that is the heart of my message to all who read this on this pre-Christmas weekend. Welcome, in the name of Christ who comes to be with us!
Some of you are regular members of our parish and assist at Mass here week after week, perhaps every day. Yet the closeness of Christ is something you may need to be reminded of; for a life of regular devotion can make one even more aware of sin and weakness than others may feel. Self-knowledge is a burden as well as the pearl of great price; so you might take this day to recall that God is greater than our hearts, and accepts in us even what we cannot. These days especially, relax into the embrace of God’s love.
Others of you are local residents who do not worship regularly, but for whom Christmas without Mass would be missing something. Know that you too are wholeheartedly welcome here, and that we hope our prayer together helps you to take to heart the closeness of Christ not just today but in the life you live each day. Join with gratitude, thanking God that you have this place and congregation in which to experience the true meaning of Christmas.
Some of you are visitors returning to be with family for the holiday. For believers the presence of Christ is made visible through all who love us: “God is love, and whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” [1 Jn 4:16]. The bonds of human affection go as deep as the very life of God, and we hope that your time of prayer here will illuminate the welcome you receive from friends and family.
And some of you may come here feeling, in the depth of your heart, that there is little to celebrate this Christmas. Holidays can be especially hard for those who have recently lost a loved one, or who face family disruption due to tension, violence, or divorce, or whose future looks dark because of unemployment, addiction, or any profound sadness. For you it is most important to remember that Christ’s coming means that no one need ever be completely alone. The Christ we welcome these days is the Christ who left the ninety-nine sheep to search out the lost one, whose ministry was not to the self-sufficient but to those who were in need. It may be that you come to Mass this Christmas out of habit, or out of a sense of nowhere else to go, or even out of despair. Know that your presence here is valued, even if you cannot share the joy of the multitude. Each life is a mixture of light and shadow, and Christ is often closer to us when we feel He is distant. Christ honors your sadness, your pain, your discouragement. Trust that He is with you in your suffering, making no demands for false good cheer. If it might help, we offer a “quiet” Mass at 7:30pm on Christmas eve – the Christmas Mass but in a lower key, without the exuberant celebration that may be difficult for you. Come, be nourished in the quiet.
Each week this assembly gathers to remember the message of Christ; today I repeat it to all in His name: Welcome! And until next week, Peace.
(PS: We have a Christmas present for those of you who come occasionally: A terrific book called The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. Please take a copy (one per household), and after the hectic stuff of Christmas is over, take a look at it. It could change your life!)