2019 - 4th Sunday of Advent
Reflection by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC - Director of Pastoral Formation
“And they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.”
I thought I had a great idea for Christmas one year. That year, Christmas fell on a Saturday. So, as all my aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces gathered for a family Christmas Eve mass in my mom’s living room, I realized we’d all be together for Mass again in a couple days, Sunday, December 26, for the Feast of the Holy Family. So, at Christmas Eve mass that night, I proposed that everyone bring one gift they would get from Santa later that night, and bring it to Mass on the 26th, so we could collect them and give them to families who might need them. Beaming in the stunned silence with my virtuous sense of social justice, I suddenly hear one of my nephews say to his cousin, “Told you this was gonna stink!” (And, honestly, we’re from Philly, so this is a slightly tamed version of what he said…)
Now, on the one hand, there’s the more righteous side of me that wants to say, “You know what kid, suck it up. You’ve got more than 90 percent of the kids in the world, so how ‘bout we learn the gift of SHARING this Christmas!”
Yet, even from a spiritual perspective, there’s another way to think about it. To understand this other way, however, we have to think like children – which the Gospels do tell us to do!
Christmas is the most exciting time of the year for children. Why? Because, as children get closer to December 25, they think about all the things they really, really want, more than anything in the world. Now, I taught middle school, I get it – children are always thinking about what they really, really want, more than anything in the world. But at Christmas it’s different – because at Christmas, an adult actually listens to them and takes them seriously! Albeit an adult dressed in a red suit who spends the rest of the year in the Arctic Circle! But he listens to them, and then a few days later he comes to their home at night, while they’re asleep, and gives them some of what they really, really want more than anything in the world. If you’re a child, it doesn’t get any better than that!
This moment, of walking into your living room as a child, on Christmas morning, and seeing a tree, lit up and surrounded by all these things that you’ve been hoping for – given to you free, while you slept – is one of the most spiritually important moments in our lives. Because at that moment, it all becomes tangible for us.
It’s all a gift. Everything. Our whole lives, and all the graces and goodness that fill them.
This is what we do as Catholics, we make tangible – sacramental – those spiritual realities that are invisible. Christmas morning is a sacramental moment.
The things that are our hearts most deeply desire – when we were little, it was toys; now, it is to be loved, to be whole, to be one with our God – all these things have been given to us, while we slept in darkness.
As Isaiah says, and St. Paul echoes, while we are still in darkness, just then, on the darkest, longest night of the year, while we are asleep in sin: God looks down on us, sees us as we are, and chooses to love us. And sends his Son into the world. That we might have our lives back, and have them to the full! That’s the mystery of Christmas – and it’s too good to be true, except that it really happened.
What kids experience when they turn the corner of the living room and see the tree, surrounded by gifts – that is how we are called to experience our lives, and all that fills them: with wonder and gratitude.
So now, what if some mean uncle came up to you, and told you that now you had to give this gift away. What would you say to that? Well, if it’s the day after Christmas; if you’re just coming to believe in the miracle of your life; if it’s just beginning to dawn on you the infinite degree to which God has always loved you, and always will; if you are just beginning to fall in love with God, because you’re beginning to realize that God’s in love with you; and someone said, “Time’s up. Got to let it go.” – well, then, you might speak the truth that my nephew spoke that Christmas Eve!
Later, things will be asked of us, and the gifts we’ve been given. Later, the Beatitudes will come. Lepers and blind people in need of our gifts will come. The cross will need to be carried … but not yet.
Now, we are asked to become like little children. And receive the good gifts of our Father. And let our hearts be filled with wonder, and the deep, deep joy of the gift of the birth of Christ.