30 December 2013

Why are you here?

Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord
            Why did you come here this morning?  Why interrupt the family celebrations, the excitement of opening presents?  Why brave the elements?  Maybe you don't have power.  There are many other answers, too, perhaps as many as there are people in this church.  And there is only one answer: because God wants you here.
            God wants you here like He wanted the shepherds to visit that cave where Jesus was born.  Somewhere in your hearts He sent His angel to proclaim to you the “good news of great joy”, that, “today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”   And we ourselves joined in the angelic song, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” 
            God wants you to be here because He has a gift for you, and a gift He wants from you.  The gift He gives to you is Himself.  The gift He wants from you is yourself.  His gift can only be received if your gift is given.  God’s very life, which we call grace, is offered to you this night.  It is like a bottle of wine waiting to be poured into the glass of your soul.  But in order for the wine to be poured, you first has to offer Him your glass, because God will not force His gift upon you. 
            It’s strange, isn’t it?  That our God, who created all the exists: the heavens, the earth, and all that dwells in them—the  angels, the animals, the waters, the mountains, the stars, the galaxies—God who created all this and who has unlimited power, will not overwhelm us with this power, but waits for our yes to His invitation.  It’s strange that, when our God decided to take on human flesh, He did not come as a Roman Emperor from the West, or as a Persian priest from the East, but as a baby.  But that is exactly what happened.
            We probably all want God’s gift.  Who would not want to receive the very life of God?  Who would not want to love of God, the peace of God, the joy of God to flow through our very souls?  We all want God’s gift.  But we are more hesitant to give God His gift from us.  We all want God’s life, but we shrink back at giving God our life.  We hesitate at the idea that we would turn over to God our time, even our focused time of around an hour each Sunday.  We falter at the idea that God would be in control of our life and direct our actions and words.  We pause when we consider that God might take us somewhere we don’t want to go.
            Fear.  It can be paralyzing.  Fear can stop us from doing what we truly want to do.  We all have fear at giving our gift to God, the gift of our entire life.  I still have areas of my heart that do no belong to Jesus fully.  Why?  Because I am afraid that I will miss that part of my life if I give it away.  I do not trust that God will truly be enough for me.  Yes, much of my life belongs to the Lord, but there are still parts that I hold back.  Maybe you haven’t visited your Catholic home, the church, for a while.  Maybe it took all your courage just to come here today.  First and foremost: welcome home!  We love you and we have missed you.  Maybe you come every week, but the practice of your faith ends as you walk out these doors.  We love you, too, and encourage you to share your faith with others.  We all have parts of our lives that are not fully given over to Jesus.  Some of us have held back more than others.  But no matter how much we have reserved from God, we are all called to band together, to be courageous together, and to support each other in giving our entire lives to God.  We lose nothing when we give ourselves away.  In fact, in Divine Irony, we only lose our life when we fail to give it away.
What we celebrate today is the scandalous fact that God, whom the heavens and earth cannot contain, took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.  Why?  So that our fear could be melted by one who was like us in all things but sin; so that we could have the audacity to give ourselves entirely over to the Lord; so that the yoke of sin that burdens us, the pole of guilt on our shoulders, the rod of slavery to sin of our taskmaster could be smashed and we could be set free; so that the grace of God, the life of God, could train us “to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul says in his letter to St. Titus; so that we could live in the light of Christ, which shines in the darkness of ignorance, falsehood, and lies, and the darkness does not overcome it, as St. John says in the Prologue of his Gospel; so that we could receive from the fullness of God, “grace in place of grace,” again as St. John says in his Gospel. 
            Today God wants you here.  He wants to give you the gift of Himself.  But He will not force His gift on you.  You and I must be open to that gift by giving God our entire life: nothing more, nothing less.  If we are open to it, God will change us to be more like Him, which will give us true happiness.  And if we are like God, then this world, wrapped in the double darkness of sin and ignorance, will also be changed into a light of holiness and truth, the world in which we all want to live.