Reflection for Sunday – December 25, 2016 Christmas Day

Readings: Isaiah 62: 11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2: 15-20
Preacher: Mark Hare

When I was about 9 or 10, I wanted to buy my mom a Crock-Pot for Christmas. I knew she wanted one and I wanted her to know how much I loved her.

So I asked my Grandma if I could wash dishes in her restaurant until I had enough pay to buy the pot. She said yes, but I am sure she subsidized my purchase by paying me more than I really earned.

So I bought the cooker and mom was thrilled. I felt so good.

The best gift I ever got was a Rawlings outfielder’s glove from my parents when I was 12 or 13. I never even asked for it; but they knew I wanted it and they got it for me. I felt so loved. I kept that glove until I was 50. I used it to play catch with my kids and with the teams I coached. I kept it until there was nothing left of it. Every time I put it on, I felt all over again how good it was to be cared for the way mom and dad cared for me.

So while I am no fan the commercialism of Christmas, I am not opposed to gift-giving at all. But the bright shiny packages can never be more than signs of our love. The real gift of Christmas is Christmas itself.

Let me explain. We all know about “Catholic guilt” —a knot in the stomach that never fully relaxes, always reminding us that we are sinful, that we are responsible not only for the snarky comments we made to cranky Uncle George at Thanksgiving dinner, but for every human failure that occurs in any corner of our lives.

A son or daughter fails a driver’s road test and we’re sure it’s because we weren’t good enough as parents. We contribute to the Catholic Ministries Appeal, but if the campaign falls a little short, we know who’s to blame. An elderly neighbor moves to a senior living center and five years later we hear that she died alone—and somehow we feel we should have been there.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s easy to make fun of “Catholic guilt,” but I am not making fun of it. It is right for human beings to recognize our sinfulness (and Catholics are not the only ones who do that), not only because that’s the first step to becoming the person God wants us to be, but because it humanizes us. The more aware I am of my own imperfections, the more compassion and empathy I can find for others when they fall short.

But Christmas isn’t about my guilt. No. It’s about God’s love for me. No matter what. No matter how selfish I can be. No matter the sinful patterns I keep falling back into.

That outfielder’s glove still reminds me that mom and dad did love me. But, aware of my own sinfulness, it’s hard for me to believe I deserve to be loved. That’s the point of Christmas. Love doesn’t have to be earned. It doesn’t come only to those who “deserve” it. It just is.

On the first Christmas, God sent his Son to redeem us. Not because we deserve it. But because God loves us. No matter what. It is a mystery. As the late Dutch theologian/writer Henri Nouwen put it, “I cannot fathom how all of God’s children can be favorites. And still, they are.”

Imagine the shepherds on that great night. They listen to the angels’ call and rush to the barn where Jesus rests. They smell of sheep—as Pope Francis says we all should. They are simple men, marginalized, unseen by others. They bring no kingly gifts to the infant; they come bearing only their trust and their awe.

In that moment, I am sure they felt that God truly loved them, even if others were barely aware of them. They left the stable, as Luke tells us, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen–” their lives, I suspect, forever changed.

Christmas proves how important we are to God. That is the gift of this day. And it should push us to seek the good in others as God finds the good in us. And yes that means loving those who are so hard to love—the boss who never remembers our name, the politician whose lies undermine everything we believe in, the homeless person whose perch on the same expressway ramp day after day makes us think he’s just a con artist, the neighbor who never cleans up after his dog, the guy who broke our daughter’s heart in college, or even the terrorist who seems to deserve the wrath of humanity.

That is the Christmas message: God loves us no matter what—and must love one another, no matter what.

Peace to all.

Mark Hare
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