Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent December 18, 2022

  Being with the God who wants to be with us

A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in his affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate a car as a graduation present. Bill and his father spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation they found the perfect one. Bill was certain that the car would be his on graduation night.


Imagine Bill’s disappointment, on the eve of the big day, his father handed him a gift-wrapped Bible! Bill was so angry that he hurled the Bible across his room and stormed out of the house, vowing never to return again. Bill and his father never saw each other again. Yet it was the news of his father’s death that brought Bill back home again.


One night, as he sat going through his father’s possessions that he was to inherit, Bill came across the Bible that his father had given him. He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the day of his graduation—for the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.


I wonder how Bill felt at that moment. It’s a powerful story, isn’t it? Kind of makes you stop and think. Why did Bill’s father “wrap” the check, as it were, in a Bible? Probably it represented a wish that beyond the gift of the car, he wanted his son to have a gift that would serve him well for the rest of his life—the word of God to live by, to provide comfort, to offer guidance during times of confusion, and to remind that life is more than possessions.


When Bishop McDonnell was here for Confirmation a couple of years ago, he spoke about a gift he had received for Christmas one year. Unfortunately, the gift ended up behind some books and other items, and was forgotten for a long time. When he discovered it, it was spoiled and no longer useable. And he asked our Confirmation class, “What good is a gift if you don’t open it?”


At this time of year, we can get pretty busy—buying gifts, sending cards, attending parties, making plans for getting together, etc. So with one week left, I thought I’d hit the pause button so we could all take a deep breath and ask if there’s a gift being given here that we haven’t fully opened.


We know that Christmas is the gift of God’s Son, and the beginning of what makes the ultimate difference for our everyday life and for eternity. Have we stopped to drink in how much our God loves us? And if there is an emptiness or lack of peace we’re experiencing, have we fully taken in the meaning of Christmas?


Christmas shows us, graphically, that God’s Son chose to be poor, born in a stable and with no place to lay his head. He told us he could be found among the poor, when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked… By becoming a refugee, having to flee the wrath of King Herod, who wanted to kill the child, Jesus knows what it is to be a refugee, to have to flee one’s own country, to experience injustice. His birth was celebrated by both poor and rich, shepherds and kings, but only if they listened and searched. Only then did they find the gift that utterly changed their lives, the mystery spoken of in today’s gospel. One of Jesus’ titles is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”


Christmas means that our God wants to be with us, to accompany us through all the joys and sorrows we may be experiencing. But only if we stop to look. The young man who thought he didn’t get the car he asked for rejected everything! He chose to have nothing to do with his father. Let’s not make the same mistake. Let’s not be blind to what Christmas offers, what God offers. If we are angry or disappointed with life, let’s not close our eyes to what we are offered this Christmas. Our God wants to be with us, if only we want to be with our God.