Christmas is about what happens to us when we die. It is the feast of the greatest hope imaginable, because it tells us two things: First, that what all of us want—happiness—awaits us if we choose it. Second, that we have extraordinary worth and value in God’s eyes, regardless of how our life on earth turns out. That is what we celebrate at Christmas.
The birth of Christ is the beginning of a great event that really has three parts. The Son of God comes among us, to live as one of us and take on the human condition with all its difficulties; to teach us about God and why we are here; and ultimately to sacrifice himself for us, so that we can reach that happiness. Hopefully that happiness will begin in this life, but it will only be fulfilled in the world to come. Our Lady said that to St. Bernadette at Lourdes in Franc: ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this world but in the next.’ And in Fatima she said, ‘If people knew what heaven was, they would do everything to change their ways.’
This year alone we have buried 16 people from this parish and that doesn’t count all the people who died here and were buried elsewhere. If the Son of God hadn’t come among us and died for us, none of those people could be with God in heaven. That is our destiny, but it is only possible because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That means that Christmas is the feast of the greatest hope imaginable.
It also tells us something that we find hard to grasp; that is, that we have an infinite value and worth in God’s eye’s, regardless of how our life turns out. It means that God will do anything to get us to heaven. We generally tend to think that if we really get our act together and if we become holy enough, then we will be acceptable to God. That is not what God teaches us. God teaches us that He loves us totally and completely, as we are right now. We may think of ourselves as failures, or disappointments in the world’s eyes, but that is not how God sees us. Think of a little child. No matter how much that child makes a mess of things, you don’t love them any less. You love them just because they exist.
There is a Jesuit priest called Fr. Greg Boyle, who for the last thirty years has worked in the toughest gang-land areas of LA. He wrote a book called, Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion. Up to the time he published the book in 2010, he had already buried 167 young people, from gangland shootings. In the book, he talks about the fact that most of the young people who end up in gangs, really have little else. Most of them have grown up in homes with no parents, or with parents so wrecked by addiction that they might as well not be there, or of such violence that they have left and lived on the streets. They end up in gangs because the gangs provide them with a sense of belonging; a family of sorts. He says that they don’t plan their futures; they plan their funerals. Young women often want to get pregnant early, so that they will have the experience of having a child before they get killed. Most of them don’t expect to make it past 20.
Fr. Greg helps them to see that they are valued, that they have worth and that they are not failures. He says that so many of them have come into his office and just cried, saying that they are total failures and they live in shame. But once he takes an interest in them, learns their name, helps them to see that he has an interest in them, they begin to change and many of them then leave the gangs and even get jobs. Once they begin to feel loved and valued, their life starts to turn around. He has now set up an organization called Homeboy Industries.
He spoke about one instance where he remembered the name of one young man and when he saw him on the street one time, he called out his name, ‘Hey Mike, How are you doing?’ He said the young man was astonished and kept turning back smiling. He couldn’t believe that someone noticed him.
Many of us are often afraid that we will not be good enough to get to heaven and that God might refuse us. We even joke about meeting St. Peter at the gates and him going through the log-book of our life, to see if we meet the grade, or testing us with questions. That is not the teaching of our faith. What the Lord tells us is that we are not capable of getting to heaven by our own strength, but He has made it possible for all of us to get to heaven by his life, death and resurrection. The only reason it won’t happen is if we reject God and we accept or reject God by the way we live.
Pope Francis, when he was a much younger priest was head of the Jesuits in Argentina. During the military dictatorship in Argentina he had to make some very difficult choices, resulting in at least two Jesuit priests being arrested and tortured for several months. One forgave him the other did not and considered him a traitor up to his death. He made bad decisions with very serious consequences. Years later the Lord made him pope. Yes, I said the Lord made him pope. Why would God choose someone who had betrayed other priests, even if he didn’t intend to? Why would God choose a failure? Because he was not a failure. He is a human being who made mistakes. Why did he choose St. Peter who also betrayed him? because he saw the greatness in him, just as He does in us. God sees the greatness in us. We are beautiful in his eyes, regardless of the mistakes we have made. We are never a failure in his eyes. And that is why He has made it possible for us to have eternal happiness when we die. And that is what we are celebrating at Christmas.
‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’