Sorry for the late post. The post-solemnity sickness hit me immediately after Christmas, and I didn’t get a chance to post it until now. Once again, a Merry Christmas to you and to your families! Venite adoremus!
The Force be with you… I’ve been wanting to say that for years, just to see what would happen, and who would respond with “and with your spirit…”, and I finally got to do it! Please don’t tell the Archbishop that I’m preaching about the Force at Mass, but you know what I’m talking about, right? That invisible cosmic force in Star Wars that binds everything, penetrates everything, and holds everyone together. It’s kind of like the law of gravity. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, but you can feel its effects and see what it does, and you know it’s there. Sometimes, this is what we can think God is like – the Force. We have trouble imagining God – what he is and what he looks like. So it can feel kind of comforting for us to just think of God as something kind of like the Force. Like a Jedi, we can tap into God, and then through our own self-control and self-mastery, we end up manipulating this world around us and achieve a sort of God-like status ourselves, like heaven. Sounds good right? You know, there are people in England who actually answered the census that they are of the Jedi religion? See I don’t know how well that would work here, but it could be good for our collections – “You want to put 100 dollars in the collection…”
But really, the idea of God being a force-like thing sounds pretty good, right? On the surface, yes. But think about what else happens because of this view. If God is a force, then he becomes ultimately impersonal. That means that you and I are just…here. We’re no different from your pet hamster or that dust bunny under the couch. And because of that, you can say goodbye to human dignity, free will, loving others, the possibility of being loved. When we lose who God is, it can take a lot with it. But sometimes, it’s easier to see God as a force. The Israelites felt the same challenge. God was something strangely impersonal to them in some ways – a soft silence to Abraham, a pillar of fire in the desert, a disembodied voice.
But see, you and I are created to be in a relationship. We want to love and be loved. We want to be able to see, feel, and touch. We want to be able to get to know somebody else. In a sense, we wish we could be like Adam and Eve in the beginning, just walking through the Garden, chatting about the new Beltran signing with God. We don’t want a force, we long for something that will touch our whole selves – body and soul. And God realizes that! And that’s the reason that we’ve come together today. The God of the universe, who created everything and binds it together, who called Abraham, who led the Israelites through the desert, who toppled the walls of Jericho and helped Israel establish itself, and who is the star in all the other Bible stories we remember from kids – that Almighty God…became a tiny baby, born on a cold Bethlehem night, and squirming and screaming in his mother’s arms. He came to save us from the lie that God is impersonal – to stir in our hearts that love, and to teach us to call God not the Force, but our Father.
One of the reasons I’m even here today is because of that. I was going through some tough times in my formation after my fifth year in seminary – some trials of faith, you might say. I knew a lot about God and the Church. I could tell you a lot of theological concepts. I had made an intellectual assent to God – but I didn’t believe. There was stuff up here (in my head), but nothing here (in my heart). And for some reason, while I was on a retreat, I came to praying about the mystery of Christmas. It started up here (in my head). I was praying about the facts – the mileage the magi had to cover, the fact that a camel goes an average speed of 2.2 miles per hour in a caravan, the fact that they were following a star to their destination, which I’m sure is a lot less accurate than Google Maps. It was all surface level, but at some point, I felt the call to go a little deeper, and so I kind of placed myself along there with the wise men and the shepherds, and I would invite you to do the same. Imagine being there with them. And imagine yourself there as the Blessed Virgin Mary invited them to hold her son. We all know the feeling of holding a new baby, and it’s like nothing else in the world. And in praying about that, I felt a feeling of love for that child, for Christ, a feeling that any person has (at least until they spit up on you), but even more, I felt a feeling of being loved in return. That for me was a defining moment, a moment of closeness with God. God became for me more than an intellectual concept that some assent to, more than a force, more than even a protector. God is a person in Jesus Christ, a person in whom transcendence and intimacy meets in a perfect way.
I’m sure there are a lot of you in the pews today who have felt this moment. And there are probably a lot of you who are still waiting for that moment of closeness with God. Maybe you’ve been waiting for that moment so long you’ve forgotten what to look for, or you’ve given up – on yourself, or on God. Maybe you’re here because your parents go, or your wife goes, or your husband goes, or because it’s just a tradition of what you do on Christmas. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one, and you can’t help but feel lonely without them this Christmas. But if there is one thing that I hope everyone take away from this Christmas, whether from Mass, dinner with your families, your favorite songs, or that brand new Red Ryder BB gun you got, I hope that you recognize the fact that God truly does love you. Not in a generic and clichéd way that you learned in grade school or PSR, but that he yearns for you, he gives you the gifts of family, friends, celebration, and joy. He never wants you to feel alone. And he loves us so much that, as we celebrate here together today, he became a man for you.
And what is our response? What other response can we have than that of the shepherds out there on that cold night. Let us come now and bow down before him at this holy altar. Let us present the gifts of our hearts, and receive the Lord, just as perhaps those magi or shepherds did from our Blessed Mother. And let us give thanks and praise to God just as they did, for that love which caused the king of the universe to come and dwell among us.