Tonight God crosses the desert we heard about during Advent, he crosses the valleys, the hills, the mountains, the cliffs. Tonight God is with us – and he wants to stay with us, with you.
He is with us in the real world, as Pope Francis says; “in this real world.” He doesn’t come to an idyllic world as if this (pointing to the crib) is just sentiment but nothing to do with the real world.
How real do you want it?
There’s the awkwardness of Mary’s pregnancy albeit by Gods direct intervention but who’ll believe that? I’m pregnant Joseph and you’re not the father! Thank you God, you really dropped me in it three!
There’s Joseph’s inevitable confusion, his uncertainty, his pride – think of a man’s pride in this situation, Joseph’s decision to leave Mary. Thank you God, you really dropped me in it there! See how close God’s will is to the edge, always tottering on the brink! God’s will always looks like it can’t possibly succeed.
There’s the long and difficult journey to Bethlehem for a heavily pregnant mother, a distance of 100 or more kilometres, on arrival there’s no suitable accommodation. Thank you God, you really dropped me in it there! Here we find the story of this child’s future life in summary; “foxes have holes but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”… to this day. How have you changed that?
There’s the joy and the supernatural wonder of this night – the lowliness of the shepherds recognizing the Christ-child; haughtiness would never have been able to recognise the Christ-child – followed by the terror of the flight into Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of every new born male child. What’s it like for a father or a mother lying awake under a night sky knowing that at any moment a soldier full of murderous intent might find them? Thank you God, you really dropped me in it there! Tonight “there will be people from Nigeria to Iraq who take their life into their hands by going to midnight Mass.” (Fraser Nelson)
Not to an idyllic world but to this world, cruel, violent, craving power, divided but also good. God is with us in this world and because of this night (day) God has a face, a personable identity.
My second point tonight:
Many – far too many Catholics, possibly a majority – do not have a strong sense that God is with us even though he’s done this (pointing to the crib). Why?
A poor family are taking the boat to the US. They can afford to bring nothing more than bread and cheese for the journey and a little savings. About 3 days into the journey one of the children complains: Daddy, I can’t eat any more cheese, if I eat any more cheese I think I’m going to die. So the father gives the child a small coin from the family savings telling the child to go and buy an ice cream. About an hour later the child returns, excited, and tells the father: Daddy, I’ve had three ice creams and a dinner. Here’s your coin back, the food is included in the price of the tickets! (Peter Kreeft)
Many of us have tried to live on the spiritual equivalent of a diet of “cheese sandwiches” (Fr. Chris Hayden) not realizing that there’s so much more on offer.
This is the single biggest problem in the Church.
It’s the real reason – the reason behind all the other reasons – why people leave the Church. Think about it; how long will any of us last on a diet of cheese sandwiches? How long before you’re fed up? How long before you’ll walk away?
There’s a lunacy to all this that’s seldom named, but we’ll name it tonight; God has come bounding across the desert, the valleys, the mountains, the great divide between God and man – God is with us – and we’re bored, fed up, we think that this child will somehow place limits on us, somehow diminish our freedom, or we think that it’s not about us – you – that he’s not looking for you? Ah, come on!
To all of you making your annual visit I ask you to stare hard at this child and ask yourself why he came? And if you want it, if you’ve got the desire, I think Fr. Byrne and I can lead you to much more than cheese sandwiches. As Dell-boy would say; we guarantee you a full steak meal!
Tonight, and during the Christmas season I invite you to look again, visit the crib, take a good hard look and ask; why? Then ask yourself; what’s it got to do with me? I doubt he intended you to exclude yourself. Certainly not. As Pope Francis says, he intended us to use our freedom to “hasten to receive the grace that he offers us.”