Something happened about six months ago in my life, and I knew, when it happened, that I would be preaching about it at Christmas. I don’t normally plan out my homilies six months in advance, but I knew in that moment that I would be talking about it today
To set the scene a little bit, I’m the oldest of 11 children, and my Mom and Dad have a standing invitation to whomever is around to come over for Sunday dinner. When DePauw is in session, I’m not able to make it as I have Sunday night Mass, but usually in the Summer, if it is a slow Sunday evening, I’ll head over for dinner.
We have a huge table in my parents’ dining room. My Dad actually made it by hand and he wasn’t a carpenter or anything, so I still remember when he was out in the yard making the table. We all gave him hard time…”Dad, what are you doing, you don’t know how to make a table.” It was kind of like Noah building the ark, and we were all the people heckling him. But anyway, it worked, and the table is about 75 feet long, and it has been around for 20 plus years now. There is room for everyone, and dinners around the table are a great thing.
So this one particular Sunday night in July we were gathered for dinner, and around our big table there were a couple of conversations going on at either end of the table, and I was sitting in the middle just kind of listening to both conversations. I was going to offer something if it seemed relevant, but I didn’t feel like I had anything to add, so I just kind of listened and enjoyed being in the presence of my family.
So I have 5 nieces and nephews and one of my nieces is also my goddaughter. Her name is Lucy. She’s about one year old, and she can’t talk yet, and I am kind of partial here, but I think she’s at least tied for cutest child in the world. Most of you probably know some kids that are tied for that award as well.
As I was looking back and forth to both ends of the table, at one point I noticed my goddaughter Lucy, sitting on her mom’s lap, and she was just staring at me smiling from ear to ear with a twinkle in her eye. And in that moment I was struck by a lot of things, and I also recognized, as I thought about it, that, out of my peripheral vision, she had been staring at me for a minute or so, just waiting for me to look in her direction. And I realized in that moment – this is how God looks at me. And I was taken back, in that moment, to Christmas and the Christ child and the fact that Christ became a baby. Not just a human being who came down on a chariot, but instead he became a child. And so Christ looks at me in the same way that Lucy does. Lucy, as awesome as she, is not God. She doesn’t love me as much as Jesus does. Jesus looks at me in the same way as Lucy does, if not with a bigger smile and with more love, if that’s possible.
Last night and this morning, Churches around the world are overflowing. And I think one of the reasons for that is that people, when they see the Christ child, they say themselves, “That is a God that I can get; that’s a God that I understand; that’s a God that resonates with me; a God that smiles at me as a child, that loves me and looks on me with that same look.”
The problem is that moving forward, next weekend and so forth moving forward, the crowds will die out a little bit, and I think one of the main reasons for that is that we forget that Christ still looks at us this way ALL THE TIME! When we grow older, and we hit the terrible twos, and then we become teens, and we get that angst, and we keep growing, and our hearts harden and we develop this thick skin, and we change, not always for the better. I think a lot of people think, ourselves included, that Jesus went through all of this growth and change too. He grew into angst and bitterness and became mean. We think the Jesus changed, so we stop coming to Church. But God does not change. Jesus did grow up and become grumpy or embittered or hardened. He didn’t grow into being some sort of disciplinarian who is mad at us. So many of us have the wrong image of God in our minds, and those wrong images keep us from authentic spiritual encounter, authentic spiritual growth. Those false images of Christ keep us from Church, from prayer. They might think of God in an image that I reference a lot – the P.E. teacher. Maybe I need to see a counselor about my P.E. Teacher because I use that image a lot, but I actually had a great p.e. teacher, but anyways…the image of a person standing over you saying “GIVE ME ONE MORE BEATTITUDE” and “Don’t forget the 10 commandments!” and “You’re bad” and “You’re in trouble and you have to go see the dean”…many people think of God, the Church, and Jesus in that way…they forget that Christ looks on us as a child…we forget.
We’ve all heard that phrase “May we keep Christmas in our heart year round” and I think what that means is “remember this Nativity scene year round”…remember that Jesus looks at us with that same smile that a child looks at us with. And no matter what we do, no matter what sins we commit, we can turn from the Christ Child, but He doesn’t turn from us. We might not notice the smile of the Christ Child, Jesus looking at us with His infinite love, but He doesn’t stop. We can commit sins, we can do things where we can definitively turn away, but God doesn’t do that. Christ ALWAYS looks at us with the same smile, hoping to catch our attention, hoping to catch our eye, hoping to get us to smile back.
Before I looked at Lucy that night, I wasn’t smiling. I wasn’t in a bad mood, but I wasn’t smiling, but when I caught her eye, it warmed my heart, and it changed me and I was able to smile too.
So as we think about these things, what I’d like you to do, in this moment, is just to think of whatever sufferings you might be going through right now, call to mind the crosses that you are carrying right now. I’d also like you to call to mind any teachings of Jesus that you find to be a challenge, any teachings of the Church that you say “I’m not sure I like that, I’m not sure I agree with that, I’m not sure I get it.” Instead of thinking of that coming from a disciplinarian, or from drill instructor or from a P.E. teacher, I want you to think of it instead being said by the smiling Christ Child “I’m asking you to carry thins cross, to endure this suffering, to follow this teaching even though you may not get it, you may not fully understand it.” If we hear it coming from a child, with a big smile on His face, saying “Trust me I love you” it is so much to follow Him and to trust
And so we pray that we may be people who keep Christmas year round, and not just today, that we may help spread that Good News that Jesus looks on us with the smile of a loving child. And we pray that we may also bring other people to encounter that same Jesus.
We pray that what we celebrate today, the prayers, the Eucharist, everything that we’re here doing, that it may help us keep Christmas year round, and not just today.