Christmas 2013

This is the homily I gave on Christmas Eve at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.  For those not familiar, Saint John’s is an historic church in South Saint Louis.  The church was founded by Bohemian immigrants in the 19th Century.

 

veselé Vánoce!  ‘null-ig hun-a dit’!  Merry Christmas!  That’s Czech because of who you are, Irish because of who I am, and American because of who we all are.  However you say it, I want to wish all of you the very Merriest Christmas ever.

 

What a thrill it is to stand up here in front of such a large crowd.  Imagine that once-upon-a-time the church was filled like this all the time.  But, while the crowds here may not be as big as they once were, we’re still here and that’s a mighty blessing from God.  Beginning next week, we’ll be celebrating our 160th anniversary of worshipping our God at the corner of Lafayette and 11th street.

 

Frankly there are a lot of people who would have bet that we’d never make it, but here we are.  Since 1854 we’ve survived the Civil War, two world wars, a tornado, urban flight, and two interstate highways.  Generations of Bohemian immigrants built this church and today a melting pot of ethnic heritages, including an Irish deacon, are keeping it going.

 

Obviously we have a lot of visitors here this evening and we thank you for being here.  I know it’s an annual tradition for many of you to come home to Saint John Nepomuk to celebrate this greatest of all nights.  Vitame Vas!  Welcome!  Please keep us in your prayers the other fifty-one weeks of the year.  Of course, you’re welcome to come back any time.  In fact, we have a lot of exciting things planned for 2014 and we hope you can join us again for some special celebrations.

 

Christmas is a time when we all look back.  We look back to that night 2,000 years ago when Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to give birth to a very special child; a child the angel promised Joseph who would save His people from their sins.

 

Many of us look back and remember loved ones who have gone on to the next life.  We can’t help but think about our parents and grand parents who were with us in Christmases past but who aren’t physically with us today.  But we know, because of what that special Child promised us, that they’re with us in spirit and they live on in our memories.

 

As a relative newcomer to Saint John’s, I often think about the thousands of members of our church family who have gone before us.  Sometimes, when no one else is around, I like to come here and pray, and to think about all those people who built this chapel, not once, but twice.  I think about the sacrifices they made so that they, and we, would have this beautiful place to worship.

 

As Catholics we share in a two-fold mission.  We want to get to heaven.  That’s what Jesus wants for us.  He wants us to be with Him for eternity.  But our greatest mission isn’t just to get to heaven.  Our greatest mission is to take others with us.  We’re called to share our faith with others.  Our predecessors here at Saint John’s did that by making sure we’d have a beautiful place to worship.  Many of them gave everything they had.

 

When the cyclone destroyed their church in 1896, many of them quit their jobs so they could give their time to rebuilding.  And these weren’t wealthy people.  But they had their priorities, and their first priority was to rebuild God’s house.  Of course they did it for themselves, but they also did it for us.  Let’s never forget that!

 

If you’re visiting us this afternoon, I’ve placed index cards in each pew.  Please take a moment to put your name, address, and email address on one of them and place it in the collection basket.  We’ll put you on the mailing list to keep you up-to-date on our Jubilee events.  You can help us keep the memories of those great people alive.

 

In know, that’s a bit of a long infomercial, but let’s get down to business.  We’re here tonight to celebrate the miraculous birth of our Lord and Savior.  We all know the story.  God came to earth to live as a man and to die for our sins so that we could be saved.  Just think about that!  He’s God.  He created the universe.  He had all the power and all the glory yet he chose to become one of us.  What kind of God would do that?  The answer is a God who is all about love.  He created us, but He wasn’t one of us.  He knew that the best way to reach us was to walk among us.  He would come down from heaven to take us back with Him.

 

But why did He think it was necessary to come as a tiny baby?  Why did He have to humble Himself to be born in a stable, to live among us, then to die a horrible death at the hands of His enemies?  He could have come on a golden chariot with an army of angels.  He could have come in the glory that He deserved.  After all, that’s what the Jewish people expected.  That’s what they still expect.  And they’re right!  He will come in glory when He returns.  But, as they say, God works in mysterious ways.  In His wisdom He chose to be born of a woman just like you and me.

 

We have free will.  That’s part of the deal.  He wants us to love Him because we want to, not because we have to.  To paraphrase Father Thomas Merton, one of the great Catholic writers of the twentieth century, God never gives us the whole answer.  If He did, we’d have no choice but to believe him.  That would be the end of free will.  He just gives us part of the answer, leaving us to fill in the blanks.  We fill in those blanks with something called “faith”.  Faith is when we believe in something that can’t be proven.  For centuries philosophers have tried to “prove” the existence of God and failed.  A + B = C is a human concept.  It’s just math.  But A plus something that we have to accept on faith equals C is a divine concept.

 

 

Jesus was a miracle worker.  Tonight we celebrate the miracle of His birth.  He was born of a woman without the help of a human father.  He continued to work miracles up to and including His rising from the dead.  He still works miracles today.

 

And so, we come together today, in this beautiful church to celebrate His birth.  We listen to the music, we hear His words, and we thank Him for loving us enough to become one of us.  Salvation isn’t just for the rich and famous.  It’s for everyone, including you and me.

 

Ironically, the days leading up to Christmas can be the most hectic and frustrating days of the year.  We’re bombarded with commercials for stuff that we just have to have.  We have cards to send, parties to go to, and a long to-do list of things that just have to be done.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  Now, at least for one day, that’s all behind us.  Silent night, holy night is more than just a song lyric.  It’s what it’s all about.

 

My friend, Father Bruce Forman, leads a group called the “Young Catholic Musicians”.  Each year they put on a Christmas concert of music and narration on the birth of Christ.  It includes my favorite lines about Christmas.  Because of the census, Bethlehem was filled with people.  Some of them were very important businessmen, politicians, and Jewish leaders.  With all those VIPs in town, why did God chose to announce the birth of His Son to shepherds, the lowliest members of society?  The answer is simple and profound.  “God speaks to those who sit quietly and listen.”

 

That’s my wish for you on this Christmas Eve.  I pray that you’ll take time out to just sit quietly and listen to God.

veselé Vánoce!  ‘null-ig hun-a dit’!  Merry Christmas!

 

 

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