BY FR. BRIAN ZUMBRUM, OSFS
The Nativity of the Lord – Christmas (Mass During the Night) | December 25, 2018
So there is this song that I have been listening to on the radio lately: “Take Me Back to 1999.”
And so I indulged myself the other day and began to think back to 1999. Almost 20 years ago
To my eighth grade year here at Holy Name.
And all the memories and moments came flooding back. Gaudy wood paneling in a church as 900 kids sang at the top of their lungs: “Yes, Lord, Yes Lord. I will come and follow you.”
Sitting on folding chairs in the gym listening to mom sing “Mary, Did You Know?”
Nostalgic games of Red Rover underneath the basketball hoops.
So many good memories. A feeling of peace, joy, home.
Feelings I have felt every year as I have returned. Through high school and college. Seminary and priesthood.
But this year, everything changed.
For as I walked in these doors this evening, my head and heart was on a report from August. And the pain, disgust, anger, confusion and doubt I am still struggling with.
And a part of me said, I can’t do this. Not here. Not anymore.
But then the music started.
And I looked out into this room. I looked at the thousands of faces in this space. And I was overwhelmed by what I saw. I saw the magic of children so excited for tonight. And the serene joy of grandparents presiding over their extended family. I saw the exhaustion of parents trying to hold it all together for one more day. And the grief of those who are here at Christmas for the first time without the one they loved. I saw the apathy of the teen who is only here because mom made him. And the loneliness of the one who couldn’t make it home for the holidays and is at Mass by themselves. And yes — the anger of the one who doesn’t know if this Church is where they belong anymore.
And I once again felt at home.
For tonight. This sacred night. Our God comes to dwell among US. As we are. Where we are. Reminding us that there is never a moment on this journey when we are not held in the palm of his hand. Reminding us that each of us, every one of us is exactly where we are supposed to be be. Here. With each other. With our God.
And so, as we begin this Mass, let us take a moment to remind ourselves that God chooses to dwell among us gathered here by extending a warm greeting to those seated around you this evening.
This past February, I had the opportunity to travel to Benin, Africa with 7 students on a two-week immersive experience.
And let me tell you, it was truly a different world from the one I have become accustomed to.
No air conditioning. Rolling blackouts. Showering with water out of a bucket.
Host families sleeping in their kitchen so that our students could stay in the one bedroom in the house.
Daily meals of rice, rice and more rice. Lovingly prepared with the precious quantities of spices reserved for special occasions.
Every day of that trip, I was aware of what separated us. From our skin color. To our social class. To our educational opportunities. To the language we spoke.
But then, our final night, the Oblate seminarians threw us a party. They pulled out all the stops. Fresh chicken butchered outside just hours before. Pineapple from the market. Sauces. Stews. And of course, plenty of rice.
It was a feast.
But before we sat down to eat, the seminarians all circled up, joined hands, and began to sing.
Enter, rejoice and come in
Enter rejoice and come in.
Today will be a joyful day.
Enter rejoice and come in.
Then they turned to us. Extended their hands and invited us to join them in the circle.
And so we did.
Young and old. South African. Beninoise. American. French
Seminarians and Priests. Laywomen and high school students.
We grasped each others hands. Wrinkled and callused. Nail-bitten and dirty. And we danced and sang. One family. Ready to break bread for a meal.
Then Fr. Guillaume, the head of the Oblates in Benin, smiled at me and said. I’m glad you are here. Welcome home.
I thought so much about that night as I prepared this homily for this night.
For in many ways, Fr. Guillaume reminds me of the innkeeper in tonight’s Gospel.
Now, if you have not heard one of my Christmas homilies before, you may be a tad puzzled by the comparison.
For you probably still have the image of the innkeeper who turned away a pregnant woman and her frantic husband into the cold, night air.
But what if I flipped this image on its head. What if the innkeeper did no such thing? Yes, the innkeeper was out of room in his inn. But there was one place left he would have had. His own home. A stable. Where it was common for the poor to sleep with their animals.
And so he took this couple into his home, acutely aware of how embarrassing it would have been to let these two strangers see into his mess, into his home.
But he did it anyway. Gently extending his hands and singing. Enter rejoice and come in.
A line he would continue to extend throughout the night.
To a dirty bunch of shepherds, social outcasts of a questionable character and a particularly pungent smell. Enter rejoice and come in.
To a group of foreigners who’ve traveled from distant lands and did not speak the language. Enter rejoice and come in.
Until all found their place around the manger.
Here we are my friends. Christmas Eve. Over 2000 years after that fateful night in Bethlehem.
And yet, if we listen carefully enough.
We will still hear the voice of the innkeeper singing to each of us.
Are you just married or together for 50 years or still picking up the pieces from the divorce? Enter rejoice and come in
Are you gay and here with your partner? Or a single mom with your kids gathered around you? Or an immigrant who still struggles with his English. Enter rejoice and come in
Are you visiting family from out of town or celebrating the first holiday with the newest member of the family? Are you recently unemployed or slowly losing your sense of self as you battle dementia. Were you a part of the Blue Wave or a proud Republican? Enter rejoice and come in.
Are you full of doubts about God? Or struggling with anxiety or depression? Are you 25 years sober or recently transferred to this area? Are you eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa this evening or stressing about the meal that must be prepared once you get home. Enter rejoice and come in
Extend your hands, my friends. Grip the hand beside you. Go ahead. I’ll wait. One family. United in faith around the manger.
Reminding one another. I’m glad you’re here. Welcome home.
May God be Praised.