‘Come Let Us Adore Him’
Bishop Raica Celebrates Christmas Mass at the Cathedral
Bishop Raica Celebrates Christmas Mass at the Cathedral
My dear friends, on this great celebration of Christmas 2021, I join Father Jerabek and Father Ward to welcome all who are here today to commemorate our Lord’s birth. Welcome once again to all who are visiting our Cathedral Parish of St. Paul, in downtown Birmingham (and to all who may be watching on our livestream services.) The cathedral draws people from far and wide, and our Christmas greetings extend to all who are parishioners here and to those who are visiting our downtown community.
The message of Christmas seems to be straightforward. Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, was born in Bethlehem in a stable because there was no room at the inn, the place where travelers lodged! It is heralded by the announcement of the angelic choir with their festive “Gloria in excelsis Deo” to the shepherds! It created a curiosity and wonder to those who stumbled across the amazing event in this unlikely place. The glad tidings reverberate down to us today: “A child is born in Bethlehem, come let us adore Him!”
And today we come! We become present for Him just as God, through the birth of a child in the most unlikely of circumstances, becomes present for us today here in Birmingham as He was present in Bethlehem. Consider, if you will, our own lives of searching for something that answers the questions we have deep in our hearts – questions like: “What is my life about?” “Why am I here?” “What is the definitive plan of my life?” “Who am I to be for you?” “How do I deal with the worries and wounds in my own life?” In part, and while we may never articulate it precisely in the questions I formulated as examples, we, nevertheless, go on a search – a journey - for the very meaning of life. We look for that one thing that will answer the itching, the yearning, and the longing of the heart. It is an amazing journey, really, and, at times, it takes us far away from the path we thought we would take in our search. It is part of the very adventure and odyssey of life itself.
On this day, we seem to be validated by the gifts and presents we receive. Christmas cards, gifts, and presents - things that we can’t imagine living without in our life. Then after a couple weeks, everything becomes routine and mundane. We return again to the pursuit of something else or something more because we remain unsatisfied with the temporary solution we thought was THE answer.
At the very heart of it, aren’t we searching to be discovered? To be found? To be accepted? To be loved? Oftentimes, our own pre-conceptions of ourselves limit us to temporal and ephemeral answers that, in the end, don’t satisfy. We go to the self-help section at the bookstore or scroll through page after page on the internet to see if we can find an answer - some pathway to bolster and encourage us.
At the very heart of Christmas is the fact that the answer to life is not found in a thing or a present, although at times a gift and a present symbolizes something much deeper for us because of the giver. Oftentimes, it represents the love and affection that we wish to convey to family and friends.
Christmas reminds us believers that the ultimate present to the world comes not in the material things but in another material reality through the birth of a child – Jesus became flesh through the cooperation of the Virgin Mary.
For us Christians, it is the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It is this child – weak and vulnerable – totally dependent upon His family to accompany Him and raise Him up. He is the one who will become our “Prince of Peace,” our “Joy to the world” – the “thrill of hope” which awakens a weary world and the “Desired of nations.”
There is a moving passage from St. Bernard, the monk from Clairvaux, who conveys a conversation, almost like a soliloquy, and who envisions all humanity in a conversation between the Angel Gabriel who comes to make his announcement to the Virgin Mary that she is to become the mother of Jesus. He suggests that all humanity is listening in on this conversation and is anxiously waiting for her response to the request of God through the message of an angel. And St. Bernard, in his writing, envisions all humanity in the conversation encouraging the Virgin Mary, for the sake of all humanity, to respond, “Yes!” and to hurry up and give the response - don’t dally or delay in answering the angel, for God has asked you and we, all humanity, need you to respond, “Yes!” The angst of the waiting for her response weighs upon humanity. The future of humanity hangs in the balance. Fortunately, she says, “Let it be done to me as you say!” Her “yes” allowed humanity to breathe a sigh of relief as it definitively changed the course of human history from that moment.
Now we come to see the birth of this child. We come and adore Him. We bring our fears and worries, our wounds, joys and hopes to the crib with the same pre-occupation. And, over the ages, the Lord is presented to each of us with the same invitation as those He encountered along the way. “Will you follow Me?” “Will you allow Me to be the answer to your dreams and longings?” As we waited for Mary to give her “yes,” Christ waits for you and me, giving us all total freedom, to say, “Yes, I will,” or “No, I won’t.” Yes, You are the answer my heart is waiting for. Yes, You provide me with the truth I am looking for – the truth of my life. Yes, You are the life I am looking for because nothing else can give me a life without end in the limitations of this world. Yes, Lord, I will follow. Indeed, this answer, this relationship forges a relationship of love because love is concerned about the destiny of the beloved. Through the event of Christmas, He comes to say to the world – and to you and me – that God loves each of us so totally and completely that he would send His Son, allowing us to know first-hand, through one like us, of God’s total love.
So, today, is Christmas. We celebrate with joy – in our families, among our friends, in our parish communities, with believers and searchers – going to the crib together to see this thing that happened and continues to happen each and every day. We encounter Him, we allow His gaze to look deep into our hearts and invite us to something that we have yet to totally imagine or understand. And as we come to adore Him, His question to us remains, “I came that you may have life and have it more abundantly … Will you follow Me?” Now, our Lord waits for your answer. Let’s not delay. He needs this answer. He will not betray you. He will not force you. You must respond, freely, as must I. When we do, like the Magi, we will return to our homes by a different route. A route of joy and peace, fulfillment, and hope – filled with abiding love. May we not be afraid!
O, Come let us adore Him! Christ the Lord!
May God bless you!