As a Christmas present from me to you, I offer you a homily about receiving Christmas Joy, written by a very good friend of mine, Father Paul Buchanan, who gave the following homily on Christmas day last year to parishioners at my church. At the time, Father Paul was a Transitional Deacon. He has since been ordained to the priesthood on June 28, 2014, and now serves at Saint Matthew Church, in Charlotte, NC.
Receiving Christmas Joy
Joy to the world! The Lord is come. We all know the line from the carol. But why do we rejoice on Christmas day? It’s not just “because God became a man” – although that is a wondrous thing, and an awesome thing… but it can also be an abstract thing. Something that makes us joyful, rather, is usually more personal, more able to be touched and felt and known by us. But we do rejoice on Christmas, and I believe Pope Francis touched upon the cause of our joy in his exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.” He wrote, “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (EG 6).
Each of us is infinitely loved – by God, of course. How do we know that God loves us so much? It’s in the Gospel reading, when Saint John tells us how we were made, saying: “All things came to be through him,” that is, through Jesus Christ. Thomas Aquinas says “whoever makes something has to preconceive of it in his wisdom” (Commentary on John, Lectio 1, 77) – like when someone makes a cabinet; it in some way exists in the mind before it’s created. Each of us was thought of by God before we were born, and willed, and wanted, before we came to be. Anything God makes, he loves – he chose us to be, and he chooses us to be loved. We rejoice because we are loved. Joy doesn’t mean that the darkness can’t touch our lives – we all go through periods of shadows: areas of sinfulness, unfulfilled desires, past hurts, loneliness – but the beautiful thing about Christ’s light is that it can dispel all of these when we let him into our lives, the same way that the glory of the Lord lit up the night for the shepherds who hastened to see the newborn Christ. Their contact with the Christ Child brought them joy, because the angel told them that He was the Savior. They knew that this salvation was going to change everything. God had become one of us, a Person who can relate to us. This gift of the possibility of a personal relationship with God – as unthinkable as that might seem – is really ours, thanks to God becoming man on Christmas Day! This relationship will bring us joy. But how do we do this, how do we start? Well, we start right here, at church, through our collective relationship with Jesus, as we make up his Church. Jesus comes to us through the Sacraments of the Church – this is the way we receive “power to become children of God” (John 1:12). Not only children of God, but sharers in his mysteries – able to eat his Body and Blood when we receive Holy Communion! Able to hear the priest tell us that our sins are forgiven in the sacrament of confession! These deeply personal encounters of joy are possible only because of our Christmas gift – the Christ Child, who gives Himself to us out of His deep love for us. When faced with love so profound and wondrous, our only response can be gratitude. Gratitude for God’s love for us, and gratitude for all of the blessings He’s given us.
When we have grateful hearts, we’ll be more attentive to the good things in our lives and we’ll find it easier to let go of the bad. We will find it easier to rejoice with a joy that no one can take from us, because it doesn’t depend on anything but our relationship with Jesus Christ, God-with-us, who mercifully waits for us to turn back to him, even if we stray, again and again – He casts our shadows out with His unconquerable light.
This light is something we long to experience fully. Our celebration of the birth of Christ points us to heaven, where we all hope to wind up, where we will be like God – and all shadows will be cast out by the true Light, which will at last be visible to us, just like we can see the lights on our Christmas trees now. Then, at last, as Augustine says, “we will see, and we will love.” (De Civitate Dei XXII, 30, 5).
Father Paul Buchanan
Thank you Father Paul for such inspiring words as we enter the Christmas season! Before I sign off, I want to also wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I’ll be taking some rest and relaxation next week. We’ll pick up with the virtue of Peace on Monday, January 5, 2015. Until then, count your blessings and feel the joy! God bless us, everyone!
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