No More Fear and Hiding

(Homily for Christmas)

Bottom line: Christmas gives the assurance that God cares for us. In spite of our human limitations, in spite of our sins, we no longer need to fear God, to hide from him. Jesus brings peace in God's presence.

On behalf of the staff of our parish and school, I would like to say something we don't hear so often any more...Merry Christmas. Don't be afraid to say it: Merry Christmas.

I want to begin this Christmas homily by recommending a book. It is too late to give it as a Christmas present, but if you received one of those bookstore cards, you can buy it. Its title is "There is a God." The subtitle says, "How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind." A man named Anthony Flew wrote the book. Flew was considered the world's most notorious atheist because of something he did a half-century ago. In 1950 he wrote an essay called, "Theology and Falsification." Those who deny God's existence keep referring back to it. It came as quite a shock to atheists when Anthony Flew changed his mind. In his book "There is a God" he tells how developments in physics and biology led him to reconsider his atheism.

I am mentioning Anthony Flew on Christmas for a specific reason. His use of human reason brought him to a belief in God's existence - but no further. He knows that God exists, but he is unsure if God cares about us or if he even takes any interest in us. That is something we cannot really discover on our own. It requires initiative from God. That is precisely where Christmas comes in. On Christmas we celebrate the fact that, yes, God has taken an interest in us. Indeed, he cares so much about us that he became one of us.

To help understand what Christmas means, I ask you to consider a comparison. Most of us like dogs. We enjoy them even though we are very different from them and they are very different from us. For example a dog might be sitting at a boy's feet while he is doing his homework. The dog seems perfectly content even though he has no idea what the boy is up to. The boy with his books and pencils and writing paper is in different world from the dog, but still the two have a deep affection for each other.

This happy state of affairs between humans and dogs did not always exist. The dog's ancestors used to fear humans and hide from them. But at some point, a very brave - and brilliant - person approached the wolves. Maybe he just saw an abandoned wolf pup and took him in. Whatever he did, he somehow bridged the enormous distance between the two species - and we began to live together.

Well, Jesus has done something similar. We used to fear God, hide from him - and in some ways we still do, because of the guilt of our sins. But Jesus reached out to us in an extraordinary way. He became one of us. He bridged the infinite gap between us and God. That is what we celebrate on Christmas eve.

When we look at the Child in the manger, we are seeing something extraordinary. Astronomers tell us that if we look into a powerful telescope, we are seeing events that happened millions, maybe even billions, of years ago. When we look into manger, we are seeing even further than that. Jesus existed before the dawn of time. When we see him, we are looking at God Himself.

You and I will never understand the mind of God - anymore than a dog can understand the mind of a boy. Even a seemingly simple thing, like drawing a picture, the dog does not know what the boy is doing. Neither do you and I know what God is doing when he creates the universe. There is an awesome distance between us and God. That distance will always remain, but - because of Jesus - we can enter God's presence. We can feel the peace that comes from his acceptance.

I heard a nice story that illustrates God's acceptance of us: How God accepts us - even with all our sins. The singer Johnny Cash tells about spending Christmas of 1974 with the famous evangelist Billy Graham. At one point, Billy Graham said, "Let's call Richard Nixon and wish him a Merry Christmas." Johnny Cash swallowed. This was just a few months after President Nixon left the White House in disgrace. Nixon may not have been worse than many other people, but he made the mistake of recording his White House conversations. They showed him to be petty and vindictive. Instead of concentrating on the business of the nation, he was fixated on getting even with those who hurt him. The American people had placed the greatest trust in him, but he let us down - and now he was living in shame. So when Billy Graham said, "Let's wish Richard Nixon a Merry Christmas," Johnny Cash cringed. Billy Graham got right through to the former president and they talked for a few minutes. Then he passed the phone to Johnny Cash. Cash told how difficult it was to make yuletide small talk with Nixon. Then he added, "Billy felt good he had talked to him. It didn't matter to Billy Graham what a man has done, it doesn't matter how rotten and low he has been."

God knows what you and I have done. He's got the tapes and the videos - not just of our external behavior, but our most private thoughts. He knows who we are, but just like that first man who reached out to wolves, he has reached out to us. He did it dramatically on Christmas day. Sometimes people say that they are afraid to go to church on Christmas. They think the walls will fall down. No, these walls are sturdy. But what does await them is the Child. He wants to bridge the gap between us and God. In Jesus God wants to embrace us, no matter how low we have gone.

Let me try to sum up this Christmas message. When I was preparing this homily, I got help from an unlikely quarter - one of our Moslem brothers. A medieval sufi named Abu Yazid said, "This thing we tell of can never be found by seeking, but only seekers find it." Even though God is far beyond our human understand, still we have to exert ourselves. Like the former atheist, Anthony Flew, we must seek God with an open mind. But at some point we are going to bump against our limitations - our limited human minds and above all, the burden of sin and shame. That's where Christmas comes in. Like that brave man who first reached out to the wolves, God has reached out to us. We no longer need to fear God, to hide from him. That is the message for today: No more fear and hiding. Come to the Child. Come to Bethlehem. Come to the Manger.

**********

Spanish Version

From the archives (Christmas Homilies):

2014: There is More
2013: Forgiving God
2012: Why Jesus Was Born
2011: The Gift of Freedom
2010: Let Him Come In
2009: When We Were Gone Astray
2008: The Tiny Footsteps of Jesus
2007: No More Fear and Hiding
2006: That Sacred Jest
2005: An Ivory Horn
2004: A Christmas Poem
2003: The Weakness of God
2002: The Word
2001: The Abundance of God
2000: I Am One of You Now
1999: Bigger on the Inside
1998: How to Receive a Gift
1997: Someone is Knocking at the Door
1996: The Gift We All Desire

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

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Wonderful Christmas reflection from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

It is not a matter of revving ourselves up to experience again the wonder of the Christ Mass. There is no point in trying to recapitulate Christmas as you knew it when you were, say, seven years old. That way lies sentimentalities unbounded. The alternative is the way of contemplation, of demanding of oneself the disciplined quiet to explore, and be explored by, the astonishment of God become one of us that we may become one with God...

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