Pastoral Message – December 26, 2021
On behalf of Father Reynold, Father Thanh Tai, and the entire parish staff, may God grant you a joyous, blessed and faith-filled Christmas! We thank God that He so loved the world that He gave us His Son nearly 2000 years ago!
Today, as we look back at our Savior’s birth and look forward to His return, we might consider how wonderfully disruptive that first Christmas was. Nothing about the Christmas story is normal, natural, or expected. The incarnation completely upended Mary’s and Joseph’s rather quiet lives and forced them to give up all that they had planned. The angels told the shepherds to go on a journey that they were not planning. An “unexpected” Messiah and a “new” covenant challenged many of the rules and practices of the “chosen people” and their leaders. Even the counting of time itself was disrupted on that day. Whether it’s called “A.D.” or “C.E.” the birth of Jesus marked the beginning of the modern calendar. Since Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Christmas has continued to turn people’s worlds upside down.
Christmas in today’s world often requires that we allow our lives to be totally disrupted by the “earthly” priorities of the season. We are consumed with decorating, card sending, shopping, wrapping, entertaining, traveling, cooking, baking, eating, and drinking. We happily disrupt our normal routines to celebrate with family and friends. Yet, this disruption can sometimes be damaging to those very relationships.
When my son was about 4, we celebrated one of our rare Christmases at our own home. That year, John wanted a “fire jeep” (a battery powered, ride-in jeep, that had flame decals on each side). I bought the jeep, assembled it, charged it, and asked a neighbor to keep this very special gift parked in his garage until John went to bed on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, John decided that he was not going to bed that evening because he was going to wait for Santa to arrive! As it got later in the evening, I grew less and less patient with John because I didn’t want to keep my neighbor waiting. Finally, at about 9:30 pm, I put my foot down and carried him upstairs while he cried and flailed his arms and legs. Needless to say, my impatience put a damper on our enjoyable Christmas Eve.
As I reflect on this almost 25 years later, it occurs to me that I was impatient because I had the wrong priorities. I was focused on not inconveniencing my neighbor, surprising John with the jeep on Christmas morning, and getting all the other presents under the tree so that everything would be “perfect” when he woke up. Those disruptions caused me to forget the most important priority – simply being grateful to God for His presence in my life through His son and my son. I nearly ruined Christmas in the misguided attempt to make Christmas “more perfect.”
At Christmas we strive to meet the expectations and priorities of others and often fall victim to the priorities of this world. This often leads us to prefer what is familiar because change is too risky and disruptive. In this regard, we are no different than the Scribes and Pharisees who were quite proud of their roles as religious leaders of the Jewish people. Their priorities tended to focus on remaining in power by holding onto their traditional assumptions. That is why they could not accept an infant Messiah born to very ordinary parents in a simple stable. His birth (and His life) challenged their long held beliefs and assumptions.
Interestingly, the shepherds, who were likely much less religious than the Scribes and Pharisees, were not locked into a prior notion of what the Messiah would look like or how He would appear. They journeyed to find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes because they were open to the mysterious and exciting message of the angels that, “today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” The shepherds could have easily said that they were too busy minding their sheep to go off on an adventure searching for a newborn infant. Yet, they dropped everything and headed to Bethlehem – the same way that Mary, Joseph and each of the apostles said “Yes” when they were asked to disrupt their lives for Jesus. Are we willing to drop everything to follow Jesus? Are we willing to give up our assumptions about what is important, what is likely, what is familiar, or what is comfortable? Simply put, are we willing to face the disruption that occurs when we make Jesus our priority?
The great gift of Christmas – Jesus Christ – has been causing disruption since He was born in that stable nearly 2000 years ago. This Christmas, in addition to being disrupted by the many earthly demands of this joyous season, we must be willing to allow ourselves to be disrupted by His presence in our lives and to sacrifice our priorities for our Lord. We must embrace the joyful reality that, as Christians, we do not live for ourselves, we live for the Lord.
Long after the tree is down, the relatives have returned home, and the cookies are gone, the joy of the season will remain in us if we allow the infant Jesus to disrupt our lives and we make Him our priority.