December 26, 2011
Merry Christmas! Read below for a reflection from Father Roberts that was preached during the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord.
On behalf of the entire Saint Alphonsus parish family, I want to welcome all of you. I extend a special welcome to all visitors as well as those who are not accustomed to join us regularly for worship. Merry Christmas! It is my prayer for each one of you that this feast of our Savior’s birth stirs up gratitude in your hearts for all of God’s many blessings, not the least of which is your faith.
We celebrate a rich feast this evening; the proliferation of religious imagery associated with Christmas can seem almost inexhaustible: Christmas carols, nativity scenes, sentimental stories about the Christmas spirit and so on. Christmas is also a rich feast liturgically insofar as there are four different sets of readings and prayers that correspond to different times of celebration: The Vigil Mass, the Midnight Mass, the Mass at Dawn and Mass during the Day. Our readings for the Vigil Mass tonight fix our focus on the role of Jesus as savior from sin.
Jesus saves the human race from sin. There can be a temptation for Christians to reduce the salvation that Jesus brings to being let off the hook on Judgment Day for not keeping moral rules perfectly. When we profess that Jesus comes to save us from sin we are professing something far more meaningful than being excused from bad behavior. Salvation is about spiritual transformation.
The second reading gives us a beautiful image and big-picture perspective on what salvation from sin means. The Book of Acts refers to David as a “King after God’s own heart.” If we have even a minimal amount of Biblical literacy, this statement should startle us. David was a major league sinner. He disobeyed God’s will by conducting a census of his kingdom, an action that God punished by sending a plague down that killed seventy thousand. Even worse, when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, he first tried to hide his sin, then made sure that her husband, Uriah, was killed in battle and proceeded to marry the widow as if everything were fine.
But everything was not fine. David’s attempt to conceal his sin failed. Nathan the prophet confronted him about his adultery, murder and deceit. He told David that he knew that the king had done great evil in the sight of the Lord.
At that point, David stood at a crossroads. He could accept the reality of the mess into which he had gotten himself and ask for God’s help in picking up the pieces or he could pretend that he had done nothing wrong and go into denial. As king, David could have easily found a way to silence Nathan and gotten away with everything.
If he confessed, the consequences of admitting his guilt were hard to know, but certainly unpleasant. At the very least, his positive public image would be ruined. A loss of public support could mean losing his kingship, just as his predecessor Saul had. He might even face the death penalty.
Despite all of the risks involved, David humbled himself and confessed his sin and accepted the consequences of his actions. Deep down, he knew that “it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and lose his soul.”
But mere confession of his sins was not what made David a man after God’s own heart. It was only the beginning of his spiritual transformation. For David, this transformation involved extending the mercy that God had shown him to others. He became a merciful king, something very unique in the blood-thirsty barbarism of the ancient world. In the face of opposition, even rebellion, he was slow to judge and quick to extend forgiveness and seek reconciliation. The most dramatic example of this new spirit in David came when he discovered that his own son Absalom, who had risen up in revolt against him, was killed in the civil war that followed. When David heard that Absalom was slain, he wept and cried out, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom! Would God I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
David’s kingly heart is a foreshadowing of the Sacred Heart of Jesus our Savior, which is patient, merciful and set ablaze with love, even for His most bitter enemies, even for us sinners gathered here in Zionsville this Christmas night.
The British Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton once observed that “a saint is someone who knows he is a sinner” and keeps on trying to be a saint. David is a great example of this hopeful reality. He is a reminder that salvation does not simply mean being let off the hook for our sins and escaping hell. It is a process of spiritual transformation wherein we extend to others the love and mercy that God has first extended to us. In fact, the Church has no other purpose to exist than to be a community of people whose hearts are being recreated by grace into the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It is no secret that many here this evening do not regularly attend Mass. Tonight is an occasion for great gratitude because the Holy Spirit has gathered so many together to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the human race. The salvation that Jesus brings is no different for a priest who celebrates Mass every day than it is for someone who only sees the inside of a Church once a year on Christmas Eve. When Jesus came to save us, he came to transform us, to change us much like He changed David after his repentance in the Old Testament.
Birthday celebrations are often good opportunities for reflection. At this birthday celebration, we would do well to ask ourselves some questions. Where are we in this process of spiritual transformation that is the salvation that Jesus offers us? Has the last year seen our hearts grow more humble and forgiving, especially toward our enemies? And, most importantly, how is God calling us to change today?