“ The Lord our God is in Our Midst” – Fr. Bob’s Christmas Eve Homily

I have been asking myself, and others, one particular question over the last few weeks.

The question is this: Why did Jesus come down to earth to live among us as a human being over 2000 years ago? People have come up with different answers. They say things like “Jesus came to tell us that God loves us” or “Jesus came to take away our sins” or “Jesus came to show the poor they are important to God”.  These are all correct answers of course. But my answer, I think, is the best one. Jesus came to us, because he cannot bear to be without us! He just loves being amongst us, and so does his heavenly Father, and so does the Holy Spirit. They just can’t get enough of us!

I don’t know how that answer makes you feel, brothers and sisters, but it sure makes me feel really good. I remember when I was a child being told that God is always watching us, so he can jump on us if he catches us doing something wrong. What a horrible picture of God that was to show me as a child, it made me scared of God, scared to think of him watching my every move, so as to be ready to punish me. Then, many years after that, I was at a retreat, led by a bishop, and he said to us “You know the reason why God is always watching us, is because he simply can’t take his eyes off us. He just loves us so much.” And he went on to say, and this was a bishop saying it: When God sees you with your hand in the cookie jar, he’s secretly whispering to you “Go on, have another one!”

Well, I don’t know how you parents feel about that, and of course by now that bishop is long dead and gone, so you can’t take it up with him. But I have to say that his words completely took away all my fear of God. To know that you and I are the apple of his eye, and he loves us so much that he can’t bear to be parted from us. He always wants to be with us!!

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we read that, when God first created human beings, he was accustomed to walk with them  and talk with them in the garden of Eden, Imagine that, the great God of all the universe, actually wanted to be with us and spend time with us!  Even when our first parents rebelled against God, and were turned out of Paradise, God made a promise not to abandon them, but to find a way to bring us back to him. All through our subsequent history, God stayed close to us. When Israel was in Egypt in slavery, God sent Moses to bring them out and lead them into the Promised Land. During all that forty years that they were travelling through the desert, do you know that God travelled with them in a tent, so as to be always near them and to guide them on their journey? In the Promised Land itself, God inspired King Solomon to build a dwelling place for him, a Temple, in Jerusalem, so that Israel knew that its God was always with them. In Psalm 46, we hear the cry of the psalmist: ”God is in the midst of our city; we shall not be moved. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge”. 

The prophets of Israel proclaimed the nearness of God to his people. Zephaniah declared: ”The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives you victory. He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love, he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3: 17). Always, God wants to sing a song of love over us. It is like God cannot get enough of us, he wants to be in our midst, sharing our joys and sorrows, our hopes our fears, our dreams. Other nations imagined their gods as remote, uncaring, untouched by our troubles. Only Israel saw its god, as one who wanted to be in their midst, always close to them, wanting to deliver them from all their troubles. The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament describes God as “rejoicing in his inhabited world, and delighting to be amongst the human race” (8: 31).

In the end, God’s desire to be among us reached such a pitch that he actually decided to become one of us. The gospel of John says it so well: ”The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us“ (John 1: 14). This word “dwelt”, as in “dwelt among us” can also be translated as “pitched his tent among us”. Have you ever gone camping, and pitched your tent, in some camp, with other tents pitched around you? That is how St John describes Jesus arriving in our midst, like someone who joins us and is one with us, one of us. Other versions of the Bible translated that word “dwelt . . . among us” as “tabernacled amongst us”.  When we look at the tabernacle in our church, or any church, we have to say that Jesus is here, amongst us, dwelling with us , as one of us. Because he cannot bear to be separated from us. Jesus promised his Church at the end of the gospel of Matthew: ”Lo, I am with you always, until the end of time itself“ (Matthew 28:20). We will put away our cribs, our mangers at the end of the Christmas season, but that doesn’t at all mean that Jesus has left us and gone back to heaven to be with his Father. Yes, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of his Father, but he is also with us always. Neither he nor his Father want to be separated from us.

Do you know, brothers and sisters, how John describes the final state of the Church? In the book of Revelation, the very last book of the Bible, we are given a picture of the final state of things. We are told that, at the end, God will dwell amongst us. In fact, he will “tabernacle amongst us.“”God will dwell with us, we will be his people, yes, God himself will be with us. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more …” (Revelations 21: 3-4). I don’t know what else God can do to tell us how much he desires to be with us, to never be separated from us .The only thing that could separate us from God would be sin, and Jesus has already dealt with that by his death on the cross. 

When I was part of a religious community, many years ago, I was a pretty reserved, reclusive kind of individual. I liked to keep myself to myself, didn’t want to get attached to anyone, preferred my own company. In that community, there was a man, a Scotsman, a real dour individual, whom I detested, and tried to avoid whenever I could. Well, this man would keep coming to my room to visit with me, day after day. I could hear his footsteps, because he was very fat, and there were loose floorboards in the corridor outside my room. So when I heard him coming, I used to lock my door, turn out the light and pretend that I wasn’t there. He would come up and knock hard at the door again and again, and I wouldn’t answer, until eventually he went away. Sometimes he would catch me out, and turn up at the door, before I had the chance to shut it in his face. On those occasions, I would pretend to be writing or reading, and try to ignore him, while he made conversation with me, until he got the message and went away. But he persisted in coming to my door, evening after evening, to try to talk with me. Eventually, I came to look forward to his coming, and stopped trying to avoid him. We became really good friends and still keep in touch, though he is in England and I am over here in Canada. 

Once I asked him: “Why did you keep coming, day after day, to my room, when I was always so rude and inhospitable to you?” And he said to me “Because I wanted to get to know you, to be your friend”. Since the beginning of human history, brothers and sisters, God has persisted in reaching out to us, offering the hand of friendship, even when we have continually rejected it, and tried to avoid him. Many of us have learned to come to know God and his friendship. Some are still holding out, keeping God at a distance, mistrusting him. And still he comes towards us, offering us a personal relationship with us. 

And today, as you come to the crib and look on this beautiful Jesus, know that here God is offering us the hand of friendship, telling us that he delights to be in the midst of his people, and wanting to have relationship with us. Will this be the time when, at last, we stop running away from God and open the door of our hearts, and invite him in?