Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent 2018

Dec 23, 2018

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Two challenges face every preacher just at this time of year.

 

  • The first challenge is to carefully dig through all the Christmas hoopla

 (that has nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus)

without turning off all of those (including the preacher himself!)

who LOVE all the Christmas hoopla

 (that has nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus).

 

  • Having accomplished that, the second challenge preachers face

is uncovering the true depth and the mystery of Christmas

- and inviting others into it – without scaring them away.

Bear with me while I try to do just that today.

You see, the truth is that while the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem

is indeed the heart of what we celebrate at Christmas,

our celebration will be in vain if it fails

- to draw us deeper into the heart of Jesus and

- open our hearts wide for him to come and dwell deeper within us.

It’s ok, after Christmas,

to wrap the baby Jesus figure from the crèche in tissue paper

and put him in a box and store him in the attic until next year –

as long as we’ve let ourselves become more wrapped  up in his heart

- and he in ours –

for us to carry him and be carried by him

through the new year that lies ahead of us.

 

If this doesn’t happen, then Christmas may end up being little more

than an exercise in gift exchange and a bonus season for merchants.

So, I’m going to take the homiletic chance of putting you off a little bit.

I want to invite us this Christmas, all of us,

to go deeper into the heart of Jesus,

and to welcome him deeper into our own hearts.

And I’ll do that by taking the chance of sharing with you a poem,

written in the 16th century, by St. John of the Cross.

I’m reminded of it because of the encounter in the gospel today

where Mary, pregnant with the child Jesus,

goes to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth,

who’s pregnant with John, who would become the Baptist.

 

Here’s the poem, it’s titled, If You Want.

If you want,
the Virgin Mary will come walking down the road to you,
pregnant with the holy,
and she will say to you,

 “I need shelter for the night –

please take me inside your heart -
my time is so close.”

 

Then, under the roof of your soul,

you will witness

the sublime intimacy,

the divine,

the Christ
taking birth forever,
as Mary grasps your hand for help:

for each of us
is the midwife of God -

each of us…

 

Yet there, under the dome of your being,

does creation come into existence eternally,

through your womb, dear pilgrim --
the sacred womb in your soul --

as God grasps your arms for help;

for each of us is His beloved servant,
never 
far…

 

If you want,

the Virgin Mary will come walking down the street

pregnant with Light   

-  and she will sing…

 

(In Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West,

translation by Daniel Ladinsky)

 

You won’t find thoughts like these,

you won’t find an invitation like this,

in all the Christmas hoopla that has just about nothing to do

with celebrating the birth of Jesus.

We might think that Christmas is about opening gifts,

or opening our wallets to buy gifts

or opening our check books to serve the poor at Christmas.

But the first business of Christmas is to open our hearts

to welcome Jesus in,

Jesus, who opens wide his heart to welcome us into his love.

Or as St. John of the Cross put it in his poem:

we’re invited to make of our hearts a womb

where Christ is born

and we’re invited to be as a midwife,

as God grasps our arms, to make his way into the world.

“Each of us is an innkeeper

who decides if there is room for Jesus.”   

(Neal Maxwell)

 

Christmas invites us into a relationship with Jesus

which cannot be neatly wrapped and stored after New Year’s

to await another appearance 12 months hence.

 

We all have many things to worry and fret about

between now and Christmas Eve and Day:

things to buy and wrap, cards to mail, decorations to hang,

food to be bought, meals to be cooked,

family and friends to be visited -

a 1001 red and green tasks to accomplish.

 

This gospel invites us to put all that aside,

at least for some time,

and to concern ourselves about one thing and one thing only:

How, this Christmas 2018,

how will you and I enter more deeply

into the heart of Jesus, born in Bethlehem,

and how, this Christmas, will you and I welcome Jesus

to be born anew, afresh in my heart

and make his home there?

 

The name Bethlehem means House of Bread.

How wonderful that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem:

Jesus who chose to dwell in the Bread of our altar,

that he might dwell with us,

that we might consume him and take him into our hearts

that our hearts might become the dwelling place

of him who is the Bread of Life.

 

If you want,
the Virgin Mary will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
and she will say to you,

 “I need shelter for the night -

please take me inside your heart -
my time is so close.”

 

Then, under the roof of your soul,

you will witness

the sublime intimacy,

the divine,

the Christ

taking birth forever,

as Mary grasps your hand for help:

for each of us

is the midwife of God – each of us…

 

Yet there, under the dome of your being,

does creation come into existence eternally,

through your womb, dear pilgrim --
the sacred womb in your soul --

as God grasps our arms for help;

for each of us is His beloved servant,
never 
far…

 

If you want,

the Virgin Mary will come walking down the street

pregnant with Light  

- and she will sing…