We say Merry Christmas at this time of year, and I repeat the same to all of you: Merry Christmas, and may it be a blessed and joyous time for all. Many of us have happy memories of the season, unfortunately some do not. That makes it difficult sometimes to be able to understand the joy of the Lord.
But that is exactly the topic I want to bring up for our consideration. It was recently drawn to my mind by an unsolicited comment someone made at the end of Confession. It is also something I have asked a number of people at the end of Confession. What I ask sometimes is “Do you feel any different after hearing the prayer of absolution?”
The answer has almost universally been “yes.” And usually, it is said with a grin. And I tell people that that is the movement of God’s grace. In the moment of absolution, there is a grace that comes through the Sacrament of Confession.
This movement of God’s grace is what I want to focus on, because it is God’s gift to us that continues the gift of Christmas throughout our lives. I know there are possibly some unfortunate souls who have never had a joy in Christmas. Yet, for almost all of us, we have some memories that are filled with joy – not just happiness, but joy. I am not talking about the fleeting happiness of a particular gift, though that can have a connection with what I am talking about. I am talking about the sense of mystery and awe that sometimes accompanies the joy of the Lord.
I have seen it in many of the young people who are receiving their First Communion. I have seen it, as I said, with some people as they leave Confession. I have seen on parent’s faces when their child is being baptized. I have seen it in people who have been released from the bondage of their past. I have seen it in people who, for the first time in their lives, have come to know that Jesus came… for them.
The prophet Ezra said to the Israelites when they had come to a big conversion upon their return from captivity: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:10.
Today many of us will feast on food and drink and rejoice in our families, and in the Lord. But I do not want to stop with just recognizing that this is a type of rejoicing in God. I want you to think about the times in your life when you have rejoiced because of the sense of the presence of God.
Maybe it was a moment of amazement at recognizing the presence of God in your own life. Maybe it was after receiving Communion. Maybe after Confession. Maybe after Confirmation. Maybe the birth or baptism of your child.
Wherever it has been – in your life – where you have sensed the presence and movement of God, it was his gift of grace – for who you are – and who you are destined to be, as a child of God, living in his presence for all eternity. And I imagine for many of you it happened in a place like this.
Many people in our world today seem to say that these experiences do not mean much for them. But they are life-changing events, if we will only give them room to grow and expand into the glory of God in our lives.
My prayer for all of you in this Christmas season is that you will search out some of those moments of gifts of God that remain indelibly marked in your memory. Search them out. Rediscover the power of God’s grace in your life. And search for it again, and again.
One of the mistakes I think that we have made in our Catholic faith is to downplay the importance of the experience of the grace of God, which, when you listen to the saints is always an experience of joy. While it is true that we do not want to base our faith entirely on emotion, it is a mistake to downplay that as much as we have. We have the greatest gifts that God could possibly give us in the sacraments, in the Scriptures, in the lives and examples of the saints. And I am convinced that God has shown every one of us a glimpse of that eternal joy that he has for us. I am convinced that every one of us has experienced – in some way – the touch of God’s grace.
This touch of God’s grace, God’s gift, comes back to us in a special way in every Christmas season. It is why we rejoice in this season so much. It is not just about gifts that we receive, or gathering with family and friends, or eating a grand feast. It is about feeling that touch of God’s grace, God’s gift, God’s love.
I think one of the things that is lacking in our church today is the experience and the sharing in this magnificent gift that God chooses to pour out into our minds and hearts. It is the gift of adoption as sons and daughters of God, as inheritors of the glorious gift of heaven. It is the gift of the Christ child who came to become a crucified Lord and our resurrected King.
I would ask you to consider doing one thing more during your feasting at home: share the moments when you remember the touch of the gift of God. Learn to speak about those moments with one another so that you will be able to speak about them even with strangers.
Merry Christmas.