Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Perfect Christmas

(Solemnity of the Nativity; This homily was given on Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning, 2007 at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.)

One of my favorite movies is a film that came out about ten years ago called The Spitfire Grill. It’s about a young woman named Percy Talbot, who is struggling to let go of a troubling and difficult past and so she tries to make a brand new start in a small town in Maine (it could be any town, anywhere; it could be Knightsville in Cranston!). So she gets a job in that small town working at the Spitfire Grill.

But her arrival in that place disrupts everything. They don’t know a thing about her past, or what she’s doing in their lives now. The owner of the Spitfire Grill doesn’t want her. The townspeople are all suspicious of her (and it’s one of those towns where everybody knows everything about everybody else). The arrival of Percy Talbot turns everything upside down.

But before long something begins to happen in that small town. Percy begins to open up to some of the people; she begins to share her life with them. They discover that it is a life of brokenness and sorrow, but also one of hope and tremendous love. And little by little they begin to change. They start to look at her, and each other, in a whole new light; and in a very brief time the entire town is transformed. Of all the unexpected possibilities, this stranger from the outside gives them a whole new outlook on life; nothing will ever be the same since Percy Talbot entered their lives.

Today we celebrate the birth of Christ. It’s a miracle that goes beyond our ability to comprehend: God, who exists in eternity, before all things, and outside of time, suddenly enters into our world and becomes man. And His desire is that our lives will be transformed, just like those people in The Spitfire Grill, and that we, too, will have a whole new outlook on life.

We’ve all heard the story; we’ve all seen the images of the baby in the manger, the shepherds adoring Him and the angels singing. When God entered the world that night, everything was perfect . . . or was it?

Was it really perfect, or was God’s arrival here perhaps a bit more like Percy Talbot’s arrival to that small town in Maine? Jesus comes to Bethlehem, and they have no room for Him at the Inn. They don’t want Him. Most—if not all—the people in that town don’t have a clue who He is. And when King Herod hears of His birth he sends out soldiers to destroy Him. This is not a good start! St. John’s Gospel says it best: He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him (John 1:11).

That first Christmas was far from perfect (so if your life is not perfect this Christmas, then let this be a source of comfort and consolation. Be at peace; His first Christmas wasn’t perfect either). What Christ encountered when He came here to this earth was hostility and even rejection, but that should not surprise us. The Christian author, C.S. Lewis, in his classic book Mere Christianity, says that this world we live in is “enemy-occupied territory.” It is ruled by forces and powers that are opposed to the things of God. We do not need to be convinced of this truth; we just need to read the paper or watch the evening news.

“Christianity,” he goes on to say, “is the story of how the rightful king has landed…in disguise.” God sneaks in behind enemy lines, unknown to the “powers that be” and the rulers of this age. King Herod and Caesar Augustus have no idea that He has arrived.

But Christ has not come into “enemy-occupied territory” to do battle with them. He has come out to fight an enemy much more powerful and much more destructive than that. Christ comes to save us not from any earthly power, but the power of Satan and the forces of evil. More than that, Jesus Christ has come to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He comes to undue all the damage that has been caused by our sins and the sins of those around us.

And make no mistake about it: to do so will be a very messy and bloody ordeal. There is nothing sentimental about Christmas. This child born in Bethlehem will grow up and be nailed to a Roman cross. He will suffer and die…and rise again, to “save his people from their sins,” and give us a new start and a new beginning with God.

Like Percy Talbot, Christ comes to us from the outside and seeks to share Himself with us; He wants to transform us from the inside, out. We cannot have the perfect Christmas by trying to make the world we live in perfect. We cannot have the perfect Christmas by making our families or ourselves perfect. If we could do that, then we wouldn’t need Him!

We experience the perfect Christmas when we realize that He who is perfect came here for us, to reconcile us to each other and to God. We can have the perfect Christmas when we allow Him into our lives and into our hearts, and let Him do whatever it is He wants to. We ask ourselves today:

Are we able to recognize Christ and welcome Him in the ways that He comes to be among us?

What are we willing to do to acknowledge our need for a Savior, and to allow Him to save us from our sins?

How can we allow Christ to transform our small town, our families, and our lives this Christmas?