The Gift God Asks this Christmas
Summary of the Homily Reflection:
Every Advent, the Pope and the Curia (the people who work with him at the Vatican) attend four talks given by the Papal Preacher. Cardinal Cantalamessa is one of my heroes (I even was able to host him and my parents in Edmonton a few years ago), and he “delivered” once again. Here is the central point of his talk:
The most beautiful thing that we can do at Christmas is not for us to offer something to God, but to accept with awe the gift that God the Father gives the world: His own Son.
When you receive a gift, it is not appropriate to immediately return a gift with the other hand, a gift perhaps already prepared in advance. This would give the impression of wanting to pay off the gift immediately. [Rather, it is necessary] to honour the gift that is received and its giver, with amazement and gratitude”. If this is true with our brothers, even more so with reference to the gift of God, towards whom our gift is, in reality, less than nothing!
Giving gifts comes far second.
Christmas is first of all about receiving and celebrating the Gift of the Father: Jesus.
Perhaps, we have grown tired in the reception. Perhaps a lot of our preparation of gifts and meals and visiting functions just as Cardinal Cantalamessa suggests: it might be a way of managing the awesome gifts of God by rushing to make it about our response. Not that gifts and charity are wrong – how they do give joy to the Father to see His Children be gift-givers, however, the focus on our giving can take away from the Real Gift: Jesus Christ.
Actually, I think that this is precisely what has happened to this feast.
Society has turned it into one more “work” – shopping, baking, writing, travelling – and left behind the fun and celebration of just basking in the Gift of Jesus.
Sorry folks. No matter how hard we work at giving, we will never equal God’s gift!
In the Gospel of today, we meet Joseph showing us what this means. He has all kinds of plans for his life with the beautiful woman to whom he is engaged. The simple dreams of a simple person. What incredible gifts of love he can shower on her as he fulfils the noblest task a man can do: care and provide for a family.
Then the shattering of all his plans and work and preparation. Mary is pregnant and the baby – he knows – is not his … Plans and work for Christmas all go south – the kids squabble, everyone is sick, the Turkey is not cooked properly …
So you improvise – what is to be done? It shows our mettle these crisis moments. Joseph has two choices – the Law allows him to denounce Mary or he can just hush it all up (as much as anything can be hushed up in a village). Joseph shows his mettle – He is a righteous man, and seeks to manage the situation – selflessly putting aside his rights in order to protect Mary.
But then an announcement to Joseph – this baby is the Gift of God, Jesus conceived of the Holy Spirit in the womb of his espoused, arrives and all his plans come to nothing.. the Angel announces what God is doing for his people – a gift that leaves him only able to accept without fear this complete over-turning of his life. All of his material “gifts” are of no avail – he can only respond with the deep virtue of character to let this Child’s birth take him far from family and home, far from safety and control, far into a night where only a baby’s cry awaits.
Well, not quite. There is one thing he can do. He can name the Gift that transforms his life according to the will of God the Giver: he will name the Child, ישוע – Yēšūa‘ “God rescues”
Christmas teaches us the mystery of the Gift – our plans do not avail … there is a larger plan for us – it is the plan of God and God’s plan is that He is with us in Jesus.
So for us. There is one thing that we can do: hold out our hands and tongues to receive the same Gift in Holy Communion, and name the Gift: Jesus the Lord. That Communion is the Gift that God asks of us this Christmas.
Come, Let us adore Him.