TV Mass Homily 12/8/2019

Those my age grew up enjoying Peanuts cartoons both in the daily paper and on TV. I am a bit nostalgic for the simplicity and subtle moral message told with humor they brought every day. Fortunately every year we have the opportunity to view once again on television A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now decades old, it does not have the dazzling graphics of today’s media. It does retain the dazzling message of the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas ought to be about Christ.
The initial focus of these cartoon characters is on what they want for Christmas, a not outdated focus in our day. Lucy, mulling over what she expects in gifts decides that this year she wants real estate. Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister, writes a letter to Santa Claus detailing her long wish list. She concludes by writing, ‘make it easy on yourself, Santa, and send money, preferably 10s and 20s’. Charlie Brown and Scripture quoting Linus fight a lonely battle as they try to direct a Christmas pageant to focus on the real spirit of Christmas, the gift of God’s only son. What is the real spirit of Christmas for us? What is on our wish list?
Our readings today can help us remember the gifts that should be on our list, the gifts that come when we remember that Christmas is about Christ, his coming into history at Bethlehem, his coming into our hearts each day as St. Bernard put it, and his coming at the end of time.
Isaiah, the first reading, was written centuries before the birth of Christ and describes what the Savior, the Messiah will be like. The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him with the gifts are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord, awe of the Lord. Jesus fulfills that prophecy, possesses those gifts, and passes them on to us through the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. They are gifts that money cannot buy but which we can share with one another.
A priest took his 28 member wrestling team into a restaurant on the way home from a meet. Horror came over the faces of the restaurant workers and some customers as the teenagers noisily walked in. When the pizza arrived, one of the boys shouted over the top of the noise, ‘quiet down, Father is going to say grace’. The entire restaurant became quiet. The blessing ended and the lighthearted banter returned. As the priest sought to pay the bill, one of the other customers asked for the check. He later wrote the priest, telling him that he had not been to church in many years, but seeing the boys having fun yet prayerful brought back memories when Church and faith had been important to him. He wrote that he had since returned to Church and was reconnecting with his abandoned faith. “Those boys,” the priest noted, “had given that man the gift Jesus gives us, the spirit of the Lord.” Is there someone this Christmas to whom you might give that gift?
St. Paul in the 2nd reading was writing to the Christians in Rome whose families were divided because some proclaimed Christ and others did not. Paul prayed that the Christians who were under the threat of persecution receive the gifts of patient endurance and encouragement by recalling the Scriptures which reassure that the Messiah would ultimately lead to harmony and a welcoming acceptance of one another. Patient endurance and encouragement too are gifts that money cannot buy yet are in such short supply in our day, in our church, in our families. They too are gifts we can share with one another.
An elderly woman was a bit down at Christmas time, in part out of loneliness that comes with nostalgic memories of Christmases past with loved ones now gone. When she entered church one Advent Sunday, another parishioner gave her a basket. Inside was a fringed linen cloth on which was embroidered “bread shared with friends makes any meal a feast.” Inside the cloth was a loaf of cranberry nut bread. The gift giver said to her, “I just want you to know you have always been there when I needed you. You will never know the difference you have made in our lives.” Is there someone like that in your life who this Christmas you can give the gift of appreciation?
Finally, in the Gospel Matthew reintroduces us to John the Baptist, a voice crying out in the wilderness of disbelief, calling for repentance and humility. In a way Charlie Brown is that voice, going against the grain of the times, trying to refocus people’s attention on the birth of Jesus, on God. Repent, reform your lives, and discover what’s really important they both call out. In the TV show Charlie Brown buys a spindly little evergreen tree with needles falling off. It is mocked by the others, it’s too small, it’s too ugly, and it’s too old fashioned, today we need pizazz. Yet once it is decorated it radiates a unique beauty that brings out in all the characters the true spirit of the season.
A man recalled when he was about eight. His father had abandoned the family and his mother struggled to hold things together. There was no money for a Christmas tree. She sent her three children out into the neighborhood to collect discarded tree remnants, cut off branches. They dumped them on the living room floor. The mother glued and nailed, taped and tied them together into something resembling a tree. She cut colorful pictures out of magazines and hung them with ribbons along with a few decorations from previous years. He wrote, “It couldn’t have been very pretty, with its single strand of six blue lights, but I don’t remember seeing anything more beautiful. Only God can make a tree. I saw him do it with Mama’s hands.”
Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, for the coming of the Lord, for rediscovering the spirit of the Lord who came and comes into the world to save each of us and a time for offering encouragement and appreciation. These gifts we can share with others. Only God can make a tree. Sometimes he asks us to be his instrument. May we share the joy that comes from remembering that Christmas is about Christ, and that the gift of himself money cannot buy yet lasts more than a day.