Fr. Brent’s Christmas Homily

Nativity of our Lord – Christmas Day

St. Anselm Catholic Church – Sudbury, MA

December 25, 2020

Readings:  Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-6; Luke 2:15-20

Greeting:

          Merry Christmas! It is good to be here! It is good to be together with all our hopes and prayers, our joys and sorrows, before our God who comes to save us and give us life to the full.  As many of us have found out in the pandemic, fullness of life comes not in money or prestige, but in the more ordinary and often taken for granted things of being with family and friends, enjoying health, and giving and receiving love. 

During the pandemic many of us have gone deeper in our faith – or even had our faith shaken. We may well feel tired. But look, here we are together to pray – a testament to the fact that we don’t walk this road alone! We are here for each other and Jesus promises that whenever we gather in his name he is there with us. 

          So, welcome!  Especially we welcome those who are joining us for the first time, or have come back after a long time. We are happy you are here!

          Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus – God made flesh in the world, a promise of love fulfilled, a pledge to never let us be alone, a call to live now and forever in God’s peace.  Beholding that mystery, we commend ourselves to God’s mercy.

Penitential Act:

Lord Jesus, you are Son of God and Son of Mary, Lord Have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you Word made flesh and splendor of the Father, Christ have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you are mighty God and Prince of Peace, Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

Gloria:

Glory to God in the highest…

Homily:

Do you like surprises? 

Kids, do you like to be surprised?  Maybe you are eager to be surprised by what Santa Claus is going to bring you this year!  How about the surprise of suddenly ‘getting it’ – like maybe when you suddenly could ride your bike, or when you got the hang of skiing?  Those are good surprises. 

Adults, do you like to be surprised?  You’re going to answer me, “it depends what sort of surprise!”  Sure, we want good surprises – a Christmas bonus, a cure from an illness, an unexpected phone call from a good friend from years ago. 

We surely don’t want bad surprises – a lost job, a family member gets sick. 

But you know, we may also not like surprises that change our plans. We might react harshly against them.  2020 certainly changed a lot of our plans!  Who expected working from home?  Lock downs?  Kids doing school at the kitchen table for months and months?  A fearful disease to protect ourselves and others against? 

Kids, you also get surprises that you don’t like: A bad grade even though you studied. You and your best friend is assigned to different class from you. 

Or maybe it’s just a change of plan — like you’d planned to do something fun and it got canceled.  My 3 year old niece last year cried when she’d been looking forward to making cookies one day with her mom but then they realized they were missing an necessary ingredient.  It wasn’t the end of the world. They could do it the next day, but the surprise of not being able to do what you’d expected can hurt for a bit!

I admit I sometimes don’t like surprises either!  Especially ones which change my plans.  I started 2020 in India doing research for my PhD in history. I was supposed to be there a whole year! But the pandemic came and with two days’ notice I had to stop everything and come home. I haven’t been able to do any of that work for nine months now.  I’m doing other things instead.  But after the shock passed…you known what? I see God has being doing good things for me through this surprise.  For one thing, I wouldn’t be here with you, on the other side of the country from where I was living, without this surprise change of plans.  And I love being with you!

In tonight’s gospel we don’t just hear about Mary and Joseph welcoming the baby Jesus who is born to them.  That was, of course, a happy and joyous event for them! But it wasn’t only for them. It was a surprise for everyone in the world, a surprise God really wanted to give to us.  The gospel tells us about a group of shepherds in a nearby field…

They were going about their business taking care of their sheep. It was night. They probably were taking turns staying awake to keep the sheep safe. They were probably drowsy and sleepy. 

But then an angel appeared to them, even frightened them by the sudden light – something totally unexpected! The angel said – Look! Over there!  In the city of Bethlehem, the savior has been born, the anointed one, Christ, the messiah whom you’ve been waiting for. 

Change of plans! So the shepherds had to do something different…. Sleep interrupted…. Care of their sheep thrown into chaos!  Did God’s angel appear to us really? Were we dreaming?  We must go and see, I guess?

Can you feel the mixture of shock, fear and excitement in the shepherd’s moment of surprise? 

Consider how God works: God chose an ordinary young woman, Mary to be the mother of Jesus.  She was engaged to be married to Joseph – a carpenter, not a prince.  Mary gives birth away from home, in the barn with animals around, behind an Inn.  And the Angel of God announces this good news – “a savior has been born for YOU who is Christ and Lord” – to a bunch of shepherds in a field. 

Do you see how God works?  God’s attention is on the simple, the ordinary. God most wants to show up in places that people don’t usually think of as dignified or important.  It is for such places and such people especially that God became flesh and dwelt among us.  Why? Because they have the eyes to see and the ears to hear…

Friends, in your and my ordinary lives, Christ is born. God is revealed.  When we are in touch with our simplicity, when we feel least prepared to receive a divine guest – such as Mary & Joseph in a stable, or the shepherds out in a field with smelly sheep, or anyone in a messy kitchen with kids running about or struggling with the infirmities that we have – that is precisely where Jesus is born. 

Do you hear the baby Jesus crying out in all his miraculous beauty in your life? In this community? Do you see and hear Jesus in the humble places, and people, and feelings inside of you?  That is where we meet the Christ, the anointed one, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Your prayer need not be fancy – just sincere, heart-felt.  Your welcome need not be elaborate – just warm. 

  • Welcome Jesus in your prayerful heart by speaking from the heart.  Welcome Jesus in your home by knowing you and your family are each made in the image and likeness of God! 
  • Welcome Jesus in your neighbors – known and unknown alike – by treating them like Christ himself. 

He’s knocking at your door this Christmasthe door of your hearts, your home, your family, this church. Will you open up to the surprise visitor?  Will you open even if the place isn’t tidy, the food isn’t prepared, and you’re still in your pajamas? 

At St. Anselm we are striving to welcome Jesus into our midst, the one we know has surprised us with much grace – even amidst the obvious adversities of 2020.  We are trying to open up the door to Jesus who knocks repeatedly, who visits regularly, because we know we are transformed when he comes. For God is good, all the time!

As a community we recently decided to sum up in a phrase what God’s surprises means for how we act. We are On a Journey with Christ to Welcome, Love and Serve. Under that heading we have embarked on strategic planning for a future of hope.

Our invitation to every longtime member, returning member, newcomer and guest to this church is, Come, Grow with Us! When all of us comes as we are, with hearts open to growth and to share what we have, Christ joins us, guides us, magnifies all good things. You can learn more about our plans and ways to be involved by reading the bulletin insert today, following us on social media, getting on our email list by calling the rectory, or looking at our website.

May Christ be born anew for us, with much surprise!  Merry Christmas!