Christmas Eve 2023 – Sung Mass 7:00 PM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs CA
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Isaiah 9:1-6 | Psalm 96:1-13;11-13
Titus 2:11-24 | Luke 2:1-14

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

For the last four weeks, we have celebrated Advent, anticipating our commemoration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas just as the Jewish people did for over a thousand years awaiting the arrival of a Messiah. Tonight, we gloriously celebrate the coming of Jesus.

We have been caught up in social activities, preparing food, and buying gifts for loved ones. However, very few people ask themselves, “Why am I doing all this? My life was going just fine without it. Why must we celebrate Christmas?”

The short answer is one word: Jesus. As we’ve seen on bumper stickers, “Jesus is the reason for that season.” But who was Jesus, and why is he important?  The answer to those questions, however, most certainly, escapes a short answer. Who Jesus has been the subject of discussion and debate for two millennia. Theologians and rabbis have collectively written millions of pages trying to answer those questions to explore whether and why Jesus is truly the Son of God, the Messiah, and the world’s Savior. While they continue to argue among themselves, I will focus on Jesus.

Our First Reading prophesizes that Jesus is, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  You can state that Jesus is those things in very simple terms, but the truth is far more complicated. If anything, those complications point to more complications, to the point where we throw up our hands in frustration.

That moment of frustration, of not having a short, definitive answer, reminds us of the ultimate nature of God as a mystery beyond human understanding. We will never, ever be able to describe Jesus in a short, compact way that will give us the certainty our minds and souls seek. What I have to say on the topic will get you no closer to any definition of the identity of Jesus. About the best I can do is give you a few intellectual morsels to chew and digest in the inner reaches of your spiritual center.

The spiritual center of a human person is not a physical location on you like your eyes or your ears. Rather, it is in your heart, and by heart, I do not mean that red glob beating in your chest. In spiritual terms, your heart refers to the central part of your being. Your heart is the core of your humanity. Someone who knows your heart knows your innermost character, feelings, and inclinations.

Your heart is the core of what you are spiritually. Rather than detain ourselves with theological arguments and biblical research to uncover a definitive answer to who Jesus is, how about we simply focus on what the writer of the Gospel of John said about Jesus? You have probably seen on bumper stickers the following well-known Bible verse: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

What does it mean to “believe in Jesus?” To believe in Jesus means faithfulness, loyalty, and trust in Jesus, not merely accepting his existence. But why should we do that? Today’s individualistic culture asks, “What’s in it for me?” The answer is simple. What’s in it for us is God’s love. Because God loves us, God does not want us to perish from things like poverty, hunger, disease, and death. So, God sent Jesus to deliver us from those things through his life and teaching. In doing that, Jesus revealed the heart of God to us.  But where is your heart?

For me to ask, “Where is your heart” at Christmas brings to mind the lyrics of a song by pop artist Kelly Clarkson with the same title, which asks,

“It’s always like this
I worry and wonder
You’re close to me here
But where is your heart?

That is the question that Jesus asks us continually throughout our lives, “Where is your heart?” That is the question you should be asking yourself continually. Is your heart where God is? Do you give God at least as much attention as your job, your family, and your money?

Those are questions worth considering at Christmas as we reflect on all that has gone on in our lives over the past four weeks. Where our heart is helps us know who Jesus is.

Jesus came among us to proclaim who God is. In knowing Jesus, we get to know God’s heart. So, when your heart focuses on Jesus, you will learn just a little more about who God is.  Here at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, we love to sing about Jesus. Of course, we will continue to do so, but in addition, you might want to study Jesus as well as sing about him.

Studying Jesus reveals the heart of God. As the Gospel of John tells us, anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father. Thus, no one can truly know the heart of God without knowing and trusting in Jesus. While Jesus dwelt among us, Jesus revealed his Father. As Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians tells us, “He is the image of the invisible God.”

Since Jesus and the Father are one, Christ visually represents the heart of God, the essence of who He is. The Resurrection of Jesus brings life to those who love and trust Him by vividly presenting the love and mercy of God. In Jesus, we see God as the Savior of humankind who desires all to come to know Him and experience the salvation He offers. In so doing, we experience Jesus not just intellectually, but in our hearts.

Prayer reveals the heart of God. Spending time with Jesus in prayer assists in knowing God’s heart. Just as a child must spend time with others to know them personally, so we also must spend time with God in prayer to know God more deeply. The writer of the Epistle of James tells us, “Come near to God and God will come near to you.” Spending time alone with God in prayer will encourage a deeper relationship and create a greater intimacy between us and God as we journey through life to ultimately be Godlike in God’s presence eternally. As Psalm 42 tells us, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.”

Using Christmas as an opportunity to spend time with friends and family is a good thing. However, many people in today’s world do so without God in the picture. Yes, the presence of our loved ones in our lives is priceless. Go ahead and enjoy their company.

But I also invite you to spend some time with God as well. It’s a both-and idea, not an either-or, just like the idea that Jesus is fully human and fully divine at the same time. Use your Christmas prayers as a time to escape the dualistic thinking that permeates so much of human existence. Christmas is a time to experience in your heart both God and your neighbor at the same time.

Christmas is the time to go heart-to-heart with God. Humankind will never know who God truly is. But if your heart is with God, you can come a little bit closer to knowing God. Let yourself be with God, and may God be with you. You will not be disappointed. God’s heart is a heart of love. Tonight, Jesus is God among us. May the love of God dwell in your hearts tonight and throughout your life. AMEN.