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Sam Sawyer, S.J. December 23, 2022
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for the Nativity of the Lord

Find today’s readings here.

“From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace.” (Jn 1:16)

On my first Christmas as a priest, I was assigned one of the parish’s three simultaneous Vigil Masses for Christmas Eve. We had one in the church, one in the school gym and one in the chapel at the university next door. All were packed to standing room only. I had only arrived at the parish about a week before Christmas, so I was still mostly unknown to the community and hoping to make a good impression. I honestly don’t remember what I preached about, but I do remember the young daughter of one of my colleagues on the parish staff saying, based on the fact that I managed to get through Mass inside an hour, “He can stay.”

Christmas is a crowded time: crowded with expectations and obligations, with travel, with family and friends. It is also crowded liturgically, with four different sets of prayers and readings for the solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord—the vigil, the “midnight” Mass no matter what time it is actually celebrated, the Mass at dawn and the Mass during the day. Christmas is also one of the few times that most churches will be crowded, with pews packed and often people standing in the back.

In the midst of what I hope is a crowded time of love and joy and celebration, I hope you are able to take a moment to welcome that abundance.

Christmas is also crowded with meaning, with the carols we know by heart and the Christmas story filling our memory. Perhaps, like me, that story for you is a juxtaposition both of the Gospel itself and also of Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, telling us “what Christmas is all about” by reciting Luke’s account of the angels appearing to the shepherds.

Perhaps because of this super-abundance of readings and memory and meaning at Christmas, I have never quite figured out a really successful way to preach a homily for this feast. But I have carried that memory of “He can stay,” based mainly on my ability to keep things moving along so that the rest of Christmas could happen after the Christmas Eve Vigil Mass.

So in the midst of your Christmas, in the midst of what I hope is a crowded time of love and joy and celebration, I hope you are able to take a moment to welcome that abundance. And if Christmas is tinged with sadness for you, as it can be, I hope you will feel even the longing for that abundance as part of the fullness of grace that God is even now bringing into the world and into our hearts.

And so, responding to God who has loved us so profoundly, may we be moved to say, both to Jesus born into our humanity, and to our sisters and brothers crowding round, “You can stay.”

P.S. If you haven’t already had a chance to enjoy it, let me offer you as a Christmas gift from America Media our Hark! podcast. We have produced two full seasons exploring the meaning and making of our favorite Christmas carols. While we’ve been releasing one episode per week for the last two Advents, they’ll work equally well to help you mark the days of the Christmas season. It’s honestly one of my favorite things we do at America Media, and I hope you’ll enjoy listening to it as much as we’ve enjoyed making it.

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