Christmas can be a very anxious time because people that love us give us gifts. Whenever we receive a gift, it comes with a burden. Think of the last gift that you received. Did you feel like you owed something back to the person?
Sometimes, a simple “thank you” is just not enough. We sometimes try to be prepared if someone gives us a gift. We don’t want to feel cheap or inconsiderate if we don’t reciprocate with a gift that is even more thoughtful. We clamor to figure out if we have paid our debt for this generous and kind gift.
Now think of God, who gave us His beloved Son as a gift. Do we sometimes attempt to outdo God? Ouch! Even though our parents aren’t perfect, we are still so filled with gratitude for the life they sacrifice to give us. Sometimes we try to repay our parents by spoiling our children or grandchildren. We never feel satisfied in our giving.
Christmas is definitely about giving gifts. But it is so important for us to realize that the best gift ever has already been given; Jesus the Christ. We can’t reciprocate or come close to matching this gift. We receive the most awesome and amazing gift ever given or that will ever be given.
This doesn’t mean that we come to the Midnight Mass empty handed. But we do need to bring an empty heart. God cannot fill us with intimate and compassionate love unless we have the room. “Mary wrapped the infant in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” We must bring our emptiness and longing for a love that will help us survive our death and the death of those we love.
Advent is a time to prepare our gift for our One and Only Love. We bring the only gift that God desires. What is the gift that you can bring to God for giving us Jesus? Each of us is capable of playing our drum for the babe in the stinking manger. God desires each of us, more than we desire God. We must recognize this and respond in kind. We can bring our charity and love for the poor. We can bring our studies of sacred Scripture. We can bring our contemplation. A great gift would be to simply come home to the Sacred Heart and family of the church, warts and all!
In my 52 years of life on this earth, I have celebrated Christmas (Christ Mass) in many different places and countries. Whether it was in Korea, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, or in Fallujah, Iraq during a war, I always felt I was at home at the Mass. It reminds me of when Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for three days when he was twelve, and Jesus simply said, “Why did you search for me, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” I am always at home at Midnight Christmas Mass.
When I returned home from my first year in college, my parents had sold and moved out of our house (a mom and pop motel in Daytona Beach), and forgot to let my brother Rick and me know where they were staying. We felt so homeless. We eventually found them and celebrated Christmas as a family of eight in a small motel inn…and at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church where I would eventually celebrate my First Mass as a priest twelve years later!
Although it is awkward and difficult for me to celebrate the revised Mass, there is one clear translation that is a tremendous help. “Pray my brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Our sacrifice is our gift for Christmas, Easter and every Sunday Mass of the year. We offer the gift of plain unleavened bread, wine and water. These simple gifts that were given to us by our gracious God will be transformed into the Lamb of God who suffers and dies. This brings up the second part of our gift to God: suffering.
St. Augustine, our patron saint, is quite clear:
“Whenever we suffer affliction, we should regard it both as a punishment and as a correction. Our holy Scriptures themselves do not promise us peace, security and rest. On the contrary, the Gospel makes no secret of the troubles and temptations that await us, but it also says that he who perseveres to the end will be saved.”
Another word for “saved” is “Christ”. The more accurate word for “Mass” is “Eucharist”. Therefore, the Mass is really about “the giving thanks for being saved”.
John the Baptist, Our Blessed Mother and all the apostles and saints suffered greatly. If we truly follow Jesus, we must expect suffering. And we must give thanks for our sufferings! Give thanks for your sufferings, cancers, homelessness, struggles, disappointments, broken relationships and persecutions. They all make the best Christmas gift ever if you give them to Our Father. He loves the gift of your sufferings.
And God will top that gift when you hear the priest invite us to the best Supper ever and proclaim as he holds up the Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ:
Love, joy, peace,
Father Ron Moses +