Get ready for the best Christmas ever: A homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

churchsnowIn his beautiful book called Bethlehem, Fr. Frederick Faber says something so beautiful. He writes: “No Christmas is like its predecessor. Bethlehem grows more enchanting. The strain of the angels is sweeter. We know more of Mary and of Joseph. The Child surpasses himself year after year.”  The Christ Child, come a few days from now, is about to outdo himself again in our lives. I’ve been thinking and praying about how we can get ready for the best Christmas ever, and I’ve been at a loss.

But then God put me at a lunch table with a bunch of second graders. They are a hoot. Eating with the kids each day always brings a smile to my face and heart. Many smiles. In any event, one second grader told me his math test was sad–because it had so many problems on it. Another asked me what snowmen do on weekends. I don’t know, I replied. He informed me: “They chill out.”  A first grader’s mother wrote him his daily note, and it said for him to wish everybody a Merry Christmas. So he stood up on the table and yelled “Merry Christmas!”

But then two young men said some things I think we should listen to. After all, the Lord tells us we need to listen to and be like children should we ever want to enter heaven. One boy told me he wished there was no break from school, because he likes to go to Mass on Wednesday. I asked why. He said, “Because I get to hear and talk to God there.”  I then shared that I also don’t like the kids being on break because I miss them when they aren’t here. You are such lights to my life, I said to them. One boy said, “It’s okay Fr. Mike, you’re always with me in my heart!”

Those two boys–they have something to teach us about this week. We need to get our ears ready to hear God, our mouths ready to proclaim him, and most of all our hearts ready to receive him on Christmas day.  It’s kind of neat–at baptism, the priest touches the ears and mouth, and he even anoints the child’s heart with oil, oil that is used on only the most important things.

Ears.  We need to get our ears ready. Life is so busy, we know that. Even Mary in our Gospel is out and about and doing house visits, and she’s about ready to give birth. We are all busy. But we know God speaks to us in silence, so this week, here’s a challenge. Find an hour to be alone with God, to listen to the voice in the silence.

Mouth. We also need to get our mouths ready. Yesterday at Mass, the responsorial was, “Lord, fill my mouth with your praise.” And then in the Gospel, the Lord takes Zachariah’s voice away. Why? Apparently, because he was complaining, questioning.  I got to thinking about how often our mouths are filled with negatives, complaints, criticisms, words of anger and bitterness, words of judgment and gossip, even profanities. But God calls us to fill our mouths with his praise, with his love.  Do that the next few days and I’m certain your Christmas will be the best one yet.

Hearts.  Just as that young man told me I’m always in his heart, I got to wondering. When we are not here, is this building in our hearts? This place? The people here? Most importantly, is God in our hearts when we aren’t here?  Yesterday we made this church all shiny and fresh for Christmas. We do that with our churches and we should do it with our hearts, so as to make them all nice for Christ’s arrival at Christmas. An important way to prepare our hearts, to make them shiny and give room for the Lord, is confession. The Church teaches we must go each year. That is the minimum. Of course, we should go whenever we break a commandment or commit any serious sin. We have a penance service Monday at 7pm. 10 priests will be here. If it has been more than a year, it is time.

Let us thank our God for this final week of Advent, this wonderful opportunity to get ready for the best Christmas ever. We may not know how it will be the best Christmas ever at this moment, but it will be–so long as we have ears to hear the Lord more deeply, mouths to proclaim him and his glory, and most of all, hearts on fire for him, hearts yearning for him more than anything else, hearts ready to receive the Good Lord.