A special thank you this week to our friends from the Mercy Home Board of Regents and Friends in the congregation.
I wanted a very special way not only to greet all of you who are here today but all of those who are participating in this Mass for Christmas Day in their own homes and hospitals and nursing homes. We are, in many ways, with them, but also generously giving of ourselves today to be with them. It is, sometimes, in the loneliness of just lying in bed or being alone in your own home that their hearts can be very much filled with joy on this Christmas Day, knowing that so many people are praying with and for them. So, a blessed Christmas to all of you who are watching.
We come to the beginning of this Christmas Day with the shepherds as those that we should focus on. In many ways, we’re asked to be like those shepherds. They’re the ones who have been living on the hillside, hard at work, and roaming around in darkness that’s all around them. There is a sense of the danger that’s a part of life, of the threats that are there that they experience in very real ways. And, as a result, these are people who have developed skills in their life to survive. Shepherds are very resourceful people. They look for ways in which they can take care of their sheep, maybe get a little sleep during the night and, yet, at the same time, keep one eye open because danger is always lurking. These shepherds are people who have decided in life to depend on their own resources. And yet, it is the darkness that is around them of trying to live only by their own means that the Lord breaks into, and he lets them know, through the angels, that they’re not alone.
I suspect that, as we come here on this Christmas Day, we also can fall into a pattern of relying on our own resources, our own strengths. And the Lord today invites us to look at life in a much bigger way, that his plan for us is such that he calls us to be like those shepherds, who allow God to come into our lives and show us a bigger aspect about our lives, that he is the one who has come to save us. And so, we ask ourselves at the beginning of this Christmas season, what are those struggles in my life, those burdens I carry, the decisions that I have to make that I’m trying to solve myself? Can I allow the Lord to be the one who comes into my life with his light, and to break in there and to give him those burdens, those cares, those worries, those anxieties, so that we do not pretend to be our own saviors? Once we do that, something transformative happens to us, as it did with those shepherds.
There are three things to note. The first is that, as soon as they get this news, they realize that they are on a common journey together, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what has been told to us.” We have to remember in life that we take it step by step. It is a journey that we take, one to it with another. So often in life, we would like to have immediate results. We’d like to have things done now, and in our own way. And yet, the way the Lord works in us is he takes us step by step. So today is an invitation, maybe not to solve all the problems but to look where the Lord is giving us a pathway forward, to take just the next step and, maybe, allow that same kind of attitude as we look at people that we live with who aren’t perfect, as perfect as we think they should be or as perfect as we think we are. How is it that we can see them as fellow pilgrims, taking that next step in life, being those companions along the way, realizing they don’t have to meet the destination all at once but just to take the next step?
The second thing that we see is that when they get to Bethlehem, they tell Mary and Joseph and everybody else that’s in earshot what’s happened to them. They’re willing to share the good news of God’s salvation that’s happening in their life, and that really is an invitation for us, something that Pope Francis is telling us time and again to do, to telling parents, “Make sure you share with your children, not only what the church believes but why you believe it.” How has God been a part of the story of your life? And to be able to point out for people, especially our children, where they should look for where God is working…
Every Christmas Eve I visit the Children’s Hospital and, as I was going from room to room, a man came out of the room and stopped me and said, “Would you like to come and visit my daughter?” He was a Muslim man of the Islamic faith. And I said, “Sure, I would be happy to come in.” So I was there, and we prayed together for his little daughter who was sick. And then, as we were leaving, I said to him, “What was it that prompted you to invite me to come in?” Well, he said, “In our tradition, whenever someone visits a person who is sick and ailing, it is a blessing for them. I wanted to give you this blessing,” he said. Well, it’s very clear that this man was able to see that the good news of healing that was taking place in that hospital is something that he wanted to share. How is it the Lord is bringing healing in our life? How is it that we have been saved? How is it that he has saved us from falling over the cliff in our lives that, perhaps, we need to consider as we share our faith, especially with our children? That’s what the shepherds did.
And the final thing that we see is that these shepherds go home a different way. They’re like those three kings, they go back by a different way. And it is, for us, as we come here on this Christmas Day, to go back with the same joy that they had. We can depend…We can decide every day, when we get up, of whether or not we’re going to be agents of change in the world, people filled with joy, or glum and complaining. It really is up to us. I always told children at the beginning of the school year, “When you wake up in the morning, do you say “Good morning, God,” or, “Good God, it’s morning,”?” There is a joyfulness that should be a part of our lives as Christians. Too many people are so glum or, as the Pope calls them, sour-pusses when it comes to their faith.
A real sign that God is working in our lives and that we really have given our lives over to Jesus is a joyfulness that permeates our life, and it is a decision that we can make. A good spiritual director once told me, “You know, it doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about how you feel. He cares about what you decide.” And so, we can wake up, not just on Christmas morning but every morning, with that same sense of joy because we are returning home as those good shepherds did. We’ve heard the good news that we don’t have to live our lives by ourselves, we don’t have to save ourselves, but that we also have a message of joy and God’s working in our life to share with others. That is something that is sustainable, and that is why we celebrate Christmas today, because our lives have been changed by the birth of this child, who has changed the history of the world but also each one of our lives.