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Christmas Day
December 25, 2020

Click here to watch this homily (begins at 39:30).

    One of the newly-minted Cardinals whom Pope Francis named recently is just a simple priest, the pastor of a Roman parish who has spent many years working among the poor. He tells a little story of how, one Christmas at Mass, he asked a young boy to come up to the altar. “I gave him a panettone,” he said, “and then a big handful of Christmas candy, and then a large toy truck. By then, the boy’s arms were so full that when I went to hand him the baby Jesus, he had no room for him.”

     That little story got me going on a Christmas homily. It’s all about making room, isn’t it? For Mary and Joseph, it was about there being no room at all, as we just heard in Luke’s lovely telling of the Christmas story. For us, it’s about making room for God who wants to break into our lives but doesn’t always find it easy to do so. And I’m not talking about ‘putting Christ back into Christmas.’ Of course, Christ should be at the heart of Christmas, but I don’t line up with the killjoys who complain about the trappings and traditions of Christmas: trees and cards, carols, decorations and gifts. Those are all good. I’m talking about something bigger, much bigger. I’m talking about the basic orientation of our lives: where we anchor our lives, the place we make for God in our lives. I’m talking about sharpening the focus of our lives, changing the pace of our lives – slowing down, zeroing in on God, making room for prayer, room for God at the center of our lives, not at the fringes. Letting God, instead of things, fill the gaps in our lives.

     For some of us, the pandemic may be helping us to do just that. There has to be something good to come out of this, Right? Speaking for myself, even though I’m busier than I want to be, still, I’m finding time these days to take long walks and those walks have provided me with wonderful opportunities to get kind of lost in God, to listen to God in one of the best ways God speaks: in the beauty of creation, the sun, the wind, even the rain, the fresh spring blossoms and the falling leaves. My walks have slowed me down and helped me make more room for God.

      But not all of you have that luxury. Some of you, because of age or infirmity, are homebound, isolated. Others of you, parents working from home, deal daily with the difficult task of balancing your work with all the demands your kids make on you as they do their learning from home. There’s not a lot of ‘down time’ for inviting God into that picture, although I hasten to say that, in doing God’s work – which you parents surely are – you are making room for God. You are. And those of you who are homebound, your very loneliness, difficult as it is, can be an entry point for God who wants to be in your company.

      And you kids whose lives are turned upside-down by remote learning and who don’t get to hang out with your friends - I’m hoping that you’re still learning new things - exciting new things - and getting to know God a little better in the process, God who loves you, gives you life, and makes you curious about life and its wonders and mysteries.

     Making room for God. The little boy in the story had no room in his arms for Jesus. Too many things got in the way. The same can be true for us. But now I’m not talking about Jesus in the manger. Of course, we should make room for him these days. No, I’m talking about making room for the living Jesus, the Jesus who constantly surprises us, comes to us in unexpected ways and in various disguises, not all of which are very appealing or even very recognizable: in the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned, the forgotten. He hides there so well that he is often hard to find, hard to recognize. I know I miss him all too often.

     But when I do recognize him – when we recognize him - do we make room for him, welcome him, care for him, take him into our arms, or, more to the point, into our lives?  Doing that is the single great challenge of our lives as Christians, and meeting it is the making of us.

     My friends, this is a Christmas we will all remember, isn’t it? Remember it like no other. We’ve had to let go of so much: family traditions, family trips, family feasts – the simple warmth of being together with people we love and the joy and gratitude that come from that. We’ve had to put many of those things on hold, and there is a sadness about that and a growing impatience for all of this to end.

     But there can be, hiding in all the constraints and restrictions, an awakening and an opportunity: an awakening to the God who wants so much for us to make room for him, and an opportunity to do just that. So, rather than waste time on what can’t be, why not zero in on what can? This may be the one and only Christmas that’s quiet enough for us to actually capture what it’s all about, and even revel in what it’s all about.

     Let me close with a little poetic reflection on Christmas that Archbishop Hunthausen sent to his friends many years ago.

     If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things, if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action, when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary?

     For each one of us there is a desert to travel, a star to discover, and a being within ourselves to bring to life.

     May it be, my friends. May it be! Merry Christmas!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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