Merry Christmas, everyone!
During the First World War, there was the famous Christmas Truce of 1914. Pope Benedict XV, on December 7, called for a halt to fighting, “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” On December 23, some German soldiers placed Christmas trees above their trenches and started singing ‘Silent Night.’ Allied soldiers responded with their own Christmas carols. Then soldiers on both sides emerged from the trenches unarmed, speaking to each other, even exchanging gifts, and playing soccer. Roughly 100,000 troops were engaged in this ceasefire. British soldiers wrote of this remarkable event: For a moment, one could treat one’s enemies with kindness and goodwill.
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
Every Christmas, God asks for peace among His children: in our families with those we’re fighting, and with the people we’ve hurt or who have hurt us. Ultimately, He wants us to stop fighting with Him and come home.
One German lieutenant at the Christmas Truce said that Christmas is the “celebration of Love.” But it’s more than that. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and never gives rise to truces. Christmas is more specifically a celebration of three words: God became man.
There are four sets of biblical readings for Christmas, because it’s the second most important feast for Christians, and we’re going to use two of them. The Gospel of Christmas Day says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him… And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:1-3,14). The Word is the second Person of the Trinity: He’s God; He’s eternal, meaning He exists outside of time and before anything was made; He’s omnipotent, and perfect; He’s happiness and goodness itself. Then He takes on a human nature and now He has limits, and can suffer and die.
Do you realize how big a jump that is? Archbishop Sheen says: Imagine if we were to become dogs out of love for them. We could speak, but now only bark. We’d have the ability to reason, but now could only use instinct. And we’d spend the rest of our days with dogs, knowing we’re a thousand times better. The distance between humans and animals is closer than humans and God, because God is infinite. That’s why Christmas is so powerful! The reality of God’s becoming man has touched the human mind and heart, and people’s reflecting on this has inspired thousands of songs lasting hundreds of years, along with thousands of artistic and cultural achievements.
The power not only comes from God’s becoming man, but that He took the form of a baby in order to show us His humility and vulnerability. Pope Emeritus Benedict puts it this way: God’s always been reaching out to us, and this comes to completion in the Incarnation (meaning God takes on human flesh) and He “has put Himself into our hands” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Volume 1, p. 143-145), meaning we can receive Him or hurt Him. When babies come into our lives, they often disarm us with their innocence and purity.
In my family, my Chinese grandmother did not accept my Caucasian mother. Early in my mom and dad’s relationship, my mom wasn’t allowed to enter their house. But when my oldest brother Brendan was born, my grandmother had to accept my mom, because Brendan united our families, being half white and half Chinese, and belonging fully to both families. The bonds grew even stronger and the tension decreased further when Garrick was born, and then everything became perfect when I was born. And my grandmother came to love my mom, and she love my grandmother.
God is reaching out to us and offering us peace. The Second Reading of Christmas Mass during the night says, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety [that is, godless ways] and worldly passions, and… to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (Titus 2:11-12). The word ‘grace’ here translates the Hebrew word Hesed, meaning God’s steadfast love for us, and also refers to the favours an emperor would grant when coming to a city. When the text says ‘has appeared,’ in the original Greek it’s referring to one event: Jesus’ coming. So, Christmas is a time for truces not because we ‘have to’ in a moralistic sense, but because of what God’s done for us (George T. Montague, SM, First and Second Timothy, Titus in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 237-238).
For the past four weeks, we’ve been talking about Alpha as Culture, and tonight we focus on the centrality of Christ. Alpha, with its amazing videos, is focused on Christ. The more we know and encounter Him, the more we thrive. It might seem obvious that churches should focus on Jesus, but it’s not, and many don’t. Tonight, Jesus is offering us an opportunity to reconcile, and when we receive a gift, we’re happier and more open to giving it to others! Here are four ways we can respond:
1) Reach out to others and to God in humility. Could we be more vulnerable with someone with whom we’re not on great terms? How about a ceasefire if we’re at war with someone? There’s a chance the other person won’t accept, and that’s part of the risk of Christmas, one Jesus took. But the possibility of better relationships is worth it!
I’m not suggesting a false peace, that we ignore pains that haven’t been healed, or allow people to take advantage of us. I’m suggesting that we put aside our own sinfulness: pride, resentment, unjust anger, lack of forgiveness, and a lack of listening.
2) In the same way, while God reaches out to us at Christmas, we may not be fully reconciled just yet. Full reconciliation means a choice of faith in Jesus, going to Confession, and changing our lives to follow Him obediently. Taking the Eucharist is a sign that that relationship is fully restored, so, tonight, we should only take Communion if we’re fully prepared.
To help with that, just like last year, Fr. Pierre is hearing confessions right now and will continue as long as is needed. The yellow Examination of Conscience brochure is on the wall. And, if we’re not yet ready for this, then come up today for a blessing, and Deacon Andrew and I will specifically pray that you can eventually go to Confession.
3) One simple way to imitate Jesus’ vulnerability is to be more honest with other people. You know how we all cover up difficult topics? My family never wanted to admit that my dad didn’t have a job, no one wanted to talk about which cousins had bad marriages. No one wants to admit that they’re struggling with life, depression, or a mental illness. It’s true we all deserve privacy, but, on the other hand, people want to help us and sometimes everyone already knows. A beautiful thing I want to see in our community here is a healthy vulnerability: When we ask each other how we’re doing, we can be honest. For example, “How are you doing?” “Not too well.” “What’s going on?” “I don’t really want to talk about it now. Could you pray for me?” “Sure!” It’s that simple! Unhealthy vulnerability would be indiscriminately telling everyone details that don’t help heal or grow.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in talking about the Christmas mystery, says that we need to become like children, that is, humble and little, in order to enter the kingdom of God (526). So, we need to be a bit more vulnerable and honest than normal.
4) I’d like to invite everyone to Alpha on Thursday, January 9, 2020 either at Gigi Blin Café or downstairs in our hall, in order to focus more on Jesus’ gifts to us. Alpha has three parts: free dinner, a 25-minute world-class video about faith, and then a discussion. Alpha is world-famous for a reason, because of its hospitality, environment, and the opportunity to discuss faith and life in a non-judgemental setting.
This Christmas, I feel disarmed in my hesitancies and am hopeful. We have an opportunity to reach out to others, right some wrongs, and rebuild relationships, all because God’s become man and is offering peace through Jesus.
I’d now like to invite someone to share her testimony of reconciliation with God. Merry Christmas!
Good morning everyone. My name is Christel. Our family moved here from the Philippines in February of 2018. With no relatives here, we tried our best to build a new life, including finding a parish to attend Sunday Mass. We had tried a few parishes, but only St. Anthony’s felt like home.
I have had a very colourful past. I was labelled the black sheep of my family. All my siblings were very intelligent, while I barely passed my academics. There was always something I was doing wrong in the eyes of my parents. I even got disciplined by my father and ended up black and blue, and no one from my family helped me. I harbored so much resentment and hatred that I started drinking and smoking at an early age. I got so tired of my life that I tried many times to kill myself. I looked for love and validation from other people, experimenting with many things and even relationships with the same sex. An older guy I fell in love with got me pregnant. I was 20, so I relied on his plans for the future. He promised to love me forever, but we were not ready, and so he made me get an abortion on my own. Then he left me. I spiraled so deep into guilt, self-loathing, hatred, and loneliness that I drowned myself in things like alcohol.
One day I woke up not remembering what I did the previous day. That was a turning point. I remember saying a short prayer that I needed help. I then met a man, James, and he slowly brought me back to life. He encouraged me to confess my sins and get back to the faith. God bless him; he was patient and loving beside me throughout the drama. We got married, had two kids, but sometimes the guilt, self-loathing, and shame from the abortion would overcome me. I accepted that I would live with this sin for life. And every hardship with our pregnancies I associated with God’s punishing me.
So it was our third Mass here and this priest every Sunday kept talking about Alpha. One Sunday, he was talking about Alpha and 40 Days for Life. He talked about a woman who had called out to him that she was happy about her abortion. He said he wanted to tell her, “God loves you. You can be forgiven.” He then talked about the central message of the Christian faith, the kerygma. He said, “that woman… probably doesn’t know that God made and loves her, and that Jesus came to bring her home. She may not even know she needs to hear this, because everyone in our culture acts tough and looks as if they have it together, but, deep down, because our conscience is always active, we carry a burden of guilt that we try to ignore. And nothing can take away that guilt except God.”
I was thinking…. “This is weird. That priest is weird. I think he has superpowers. He can see my sins from the altar.” When I got outside, there was a poster about Alpha. So I asked a lady at the Welcome Booth, Jessica, what it was about. One thing made me sign up: a free dinner. When I told James he immediately rejected the idea because he did not want to drive again after work. I countered: We don’t go out alone together anymore. Let’s make it a date night where you don’t have to pay for dinner. He agreed.
I had no expectations of Alpha, but during the first night, the first question was one that was going through my head for so long: “Is there more to life than this?” So we were hooked in a way that intrigued us. The topics, the discussions, the friendships that we were slowly building were exciting. It was also a chance for James and me to talk about meaningful things besides the kids. It was, however, the third night of Alpha that changed me. I had been living with unworthiness and shame for a long time because I had committed the greatest sin a person, a woman, ever could. That third night I understood true love and forgiveness: On the cross Jesus took all of my guilt and shame. Since God has forgiven me, I should forgive myself. Some weeks later, on the Alpha day away I finally offered everything I was going through to the Lord and opened myself to receive his grace. I felt so light and happy, like a big weight had been lifted off me. Soon after, I made a heartfelt confession, and knew Jesus forgave me.
I found God’s healing through Alpha and experienced the reconciliation Fr. Justin has just mentioned. I learned and accepted that God is Love. A relationship with Him and the love He gives are the most meaningful of all. I know in my heart now that He sees me, my efforts, and has always been calling me. It was I who was not paying attention. He patiently waited for me to realize that He was offering to forgive my sins. Despite my unworthiness He was making a beautiful masterpiece out of my life that He wanted me to finally enjoy. He sent me a good man to marry, who is so patient and loving. Most important, He changed how I see my kids. What I thought were balls and chains in this life, now I see them as two beautiful souls to nurture and a chance to share in Jesus’ redemption despite my sins. Now, I serve in the parish as part of the Alpha team, help Fr. Justin with filming videos and am involved in our school.
You may think “I do not need Alpha.” But maybe somebody you know does. Your invitation and presence could touch somebody who needs it. What’s there to lose? Try it for one night.
Thank you, God bless, and Merry Christmas!