Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
When I was a teenager, probably around 13 or 14 years old, I wasn’t exactly the best kid, so my mom and step-dad got me involved in the youth group at our parish, hoping that some of that positive stuff would rub off a bit on me. One weekend the youth group went on retreat and as part of the retreat we were told to go to confession. So, not wanting to cause a scene or make things difficult for myself, I went to confession. I opened with the usual ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned’ and noted the length of time it had been before beginning with this: “I don’t believe in God and I think this is all a big waste of time.” The priest spoke with me about that and asked me to do something a bit different for my penance. He said when I was ready to do so, to look up toward heaven and say “God, if you’re out there, show yourself to me” and leave it up to Him. I agreed to do so and with my presence here today you can probably figure out how it all worked out in the end. When I came to know God was real, it was a very moving thing because I knew that if God was real, then Christ really died for me, saved me, loved me, and wanted to be the center of my life. It’s a matter first of realizing that God is real.
There are many in our world today who struggle to grasp this fully. Often the try to reduce the Bible to being a ‘How-to guide on being nice’ and suggest that the biblical stories are greatly embellished at best and at worst that they are fictional and were made up simply to convey messages. Even some biblical scholars and clergy have fallen into this trap of doubting that the miracles of the Bible were actual events. That is one of the reasons that I love the Gospel of St. Luke. He begins writing to Theophilos and describes how he has taken the accounts recorded by Christ’s disciples, stories he has been told from others and things he has personally witnessed and brought them together to form a complete picture and to provide and accurate description of the events of the life and ministry of Christ. He says it himself that he is writing a factual account. And he shows it in the passage we read today by noting all sorts of specific things. Rather than being ‘In a time long ago in a place far away’ like some fairy tale, St. Luke tells us of Tiberius Caesar, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Anna, Caiaphas, John, Zechariah, as well as places, years, and other details to emphasize the fact that the events he is describing are true. Placed in the context of the whole world around at the time, Luke begins to tell the factual story of Jesus – the Christ, the Messiah, the One for which Israel had been waiting for so many years.
Our first reading from the prophet Baruch tells of people coming from East and West to Jerusalem. This was a sign that God was calling the people back to Himself. Jerusalem was the home of the Temple, the dwelling place of God and the Jewish people had recently been conquered and dispersed among the nations, so this imagery was one of God calling everyone to Himself, to come home. For us today we have no earthly Jerusalem toward which we are called but rather a heavenly one. God is calling us to Heaven, where He eagerly awaits our arrival there for eternity. But it is for us to choose to go there.
The other day I heard a neat little phrase – God has no grandchildren, He only has sons and daughters. In an area that is culturally Catholic, it would be easy to be Catholic because our parents were Catholic and that’s just what we do. The challenge, though, is to choose the Catholic faith for ourselves - to make it my faith. If we’re Catholic only because someone before us was Catholic, then it’s time to claim our faith and to live it more boldly. And that starts with and continues by a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must know Christ and understand His voice to hear the direction to go in seeking after our heavenly homeland.
If there is anyone here who does not know Jesus Christ personally, where you can speak with Him as with a friend, ask Him for that and put it in His hands. If you have that relationship, are you actively preparing your heart to receive Him more deeply this Christmas and to be received by Him on the last day? Christ is very real and He is calling us to Himself. Let us not miss this blessed opportunity to draw near to Him.