Hi everyone, this is my homily for DECEMBER 25, 2018 – the NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. The readings for today’s Mass can be found HERE Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Merry Christmas!- God Bless – Fr Jim
Also you can get the audios of the homilies from iTunes as a Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr-jim-cherns-homilies/id1440618142?mt=2
Thursday night, my two older brothers and I had an impromptu birthday dinner for one of my nieces’ 9th birthday. In the course of it, we somehow stumbled into re-telling a story about my Mother and the last year our family ever had a live Christmas tree. It was 2001 – so it was only a couple of months after 9/11 which had the entire nation sad and stressed… and as it happened, it was only a few weeks after my Father had open-heart surgery and was home and recovering from that – so it was already a less than ideal environment, let alone one to celebrate Christmas in.
But Mom was determined to have as great a Christmas as ever. At the time, I was ordained a priest for two years and had come home for a day off when my mother asked me to go get the Christmas tree. There was a farm right across the street where we purchased our trees every year and I paid one of the workers to help me carry the tree and set it up in the house knowing my parents couldn’t help and wanting to get this done ASAP – and wanting to get out of dodge as quickly as possible. So we did.
It was a beautiful-looking tree that filled the windows in the front of the house. Got the lights on it and then had to leave to go back to the parish – as Mom got to work hanging the decorations, the tinsel… She had gone out and purchased these red-white-and blue carnations to add to it as a tribute to our nation. When I talked to her later that night she sounded exhausted but relieved that another thing on her Christmas to do list was done in what was already a stress-filled, tension-filled year.
The next morning was a Sunday, so in-between Masses I had run up to my room and saw my answering machine light blinking – which was odd… rarely would get a phone call or message that early in the day on a Sunday, so I played the message and heard my mother hysterically crying on the machine. It took a second listen for me to hear what had happened. Dad was okay. The Christmas tree was not. It seems my assistant tree installer didn’t quite get the tree as secure as we thought in the base and overnight the tree had collapsed. I could only make out words like water everywhere, branches snapped, ornaments broken, carnations destroyed – and the grand-daddy of them all – my Mom using an unfestive word which in my whole life I had never heard her use before (she hated it that much) to describe the Christmas tree. Kind of had to listen a few times to make sure I had heard what I heard…
So I quickly realized things at the Chern house were at Defcon 1 – very, very severe. I decided not to call home and instead called my oldest brother. Not entirely out of fear – but practicality… I knew I couldn’t get home for a few hours and figured she was looking for help relatively quickly. My brother answered with a less than cheery “HELLO” at the still early – for a then 30-something year old who had been out late the night before – 10 am. When he realized it was me, his youngest brother, he angrily said “WHY IS EVERYONE CALLING SO FRIGGIN EARLY THIS MORNING” (that’s probably a paraphrase) as I explained the volatile situation at home that I had just learned about in an answering machine message – he said “I KNOW I KNOW – MOM ALREADY CALLED ME” so I suggested “Well maybe you better get down there” to which very practically he answered “WHY IT’S NOT LIKE THE TREE IS GOING ANYWHERE.” And so ended the Chern family ever having a live tree again.
So the three of us were all laughing about the insanity of the whole thing the other night… kind of chalking it up to another tale of “how crazy people can get during the Christmas season.” Irony of ironies though, Friday morning when I went outside the Newman Center where we had put up a beautiful (and expensive) 12 foot Christmas tree out front I saw that it had been knocked down in the wind and rain storm – as I frantically tried to get it back up myself – in the rain for a good 45 minutes till I was good and wet, cold, muddy and completely unsuccessful myself – I wasn’t quite in a fa-la-la mood either. As I looked at the poor monstrosity hours later – now disconnected in pieces on the ground (really should unplug the lights) – which looks like something from Chevy Chase’s Christmas vacation now – as I was running to the stores angrily searching for gifts since the ones I ordered from Amazon prime hadn’t arrived – looking at packages that still needed to be wrapped, Christmas cards that I had purchased to send out that were sitting there still sealed in their unopened package, I kind of said to myself, “Well I learned a few things 1 – never laugh at Mom again – that Italian curse thing must really work and 2 – I guess I don’t have a lot of credibility about preaching about not succumbing to the craziness of the season and letting that distract us from the true meaning of Christmas.”
Which is why again – I want to thank all of you for gathering together here for this Chirstmas Mass. It’s impressive with the insanity that all of us put ourselves through in anticipation for this holiday that there’s something within us that even with our crowded lists of things to do to finish all this busy-ness – that we’re all here together this Christmas Day for Mass.
And what we hear is that what fills Jesus’ heart with joy is that we are here. He’s not scolding us for not preparing more spiritually for this day. He’s not looking to make us feel guilty about perhaps our foolish over-extending of ourselves to create a “perfect” Christmas. Honestly, I think Jesus kind of expects that Christmas will always be less than ideal… If we look at the entirety of the Christmas story – we hear of Joseph’s lineage – the family that the Messiah would come from – includes prostitutes, murderers, philanderers… So that’s less than perfect – far from ideal… We hear of doubts and worries and fears of how everything would be accomplished for this miraculous birth – which probably felt less miraculous and much more stressful as there’s no room at an inn; as the pregnant Mary and Joseph are traveling in dangerous, hazardous and lonely circumstances and Baby Jesus winds up born in a manger. Even after that birth, the threats, the fears, the dangers would only continue.
But the point is, in the midst of all that brokenness, despite those less than perfect or ideal situations – God shows up – and stays with them. So our annual celebration of Christmas is meant to reminds us of that – God still shows up – and stays with us – wherever it is we find ourselves this Christmas. Whether it’s dealing with tremendous sadness of experiencing a Christmas without a loved one; or with fears of problems at home, at work, at school… anxieties we carry with us about ourselves or our loved ones – all of which we desperately try to push to the back burner; or even if you find yourself simply exhausted from the stress of the Christmas season that has you ready to collapse. Wherever it is we find ourselves, Christmas tells us God Shows up – and stays with us. He’ll take whatever space it is we’re able to supply: a manger sufficed that first Christmas… so this Christmas if this is the first time you’ve walked into Church ever or you were here a day ago for Sunday Mass, either example and everyone in between, God will use that. God will take that.
Because The Christmas story is about the God who is so crazy in love with us – that he will do anything and try anyway He can to be a part of our lives – all to bring about His Dream of leading us past the brokenness, past the stresses and fears and tensions we put on ourselves to one day realize that He who is the beginning and end of all things, is the only thing that ultimately matters. We all need that reminder…
That dawned on me coming back from an 11 PM Target run Friday night to buy a sewing machine for one of my nieces. On the surface, I recognized that at that moment I probably wasn’t exactly demonstrating someone anticipating Jesus’ birth or bearing witness to his presence in my life – but if I can recognize the love there for my family that drove me to succumb to the annual Christmas craziness – God can enter into that space… God can use that to remind me of the lengths He has gone through to express His love for me – and you in giving us the most precious gift He has – His son.
May we joyfully receive that gift… receive Him. So that we may truly have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – filled with His presence each and every day, a presence that makes our imperfect Christmases, our imperfect selves, at least in His eyes – perfect.
THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed this year to our ANNUAL CHRISTMAS APPEAL! It has been a record breaking year for us as we have exceeded our initial goal. We’d appreciate your consideration and support – go to www.MSUNEWMAN.com/appeal for more details