4th Sunday of Advent
December 24, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
“T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there….”
We find ourselves in an interesting place this morning/afternoon:
it is the beginning of the 4th week of Advent,
a “week” that will end in just about 7/4 hours, as we begin Christmas:
“t’is the day before Christmas….”
On the 4th Sunday I usually preach about our final spiritual preparation
But with 7/4 hours, there’s not much time left to do that.
You probably can’t get to confession today,
and most of you will probably be too tied up
with last minute details of the celebrations tonight and tomorrow
to spend a lot of time saying the rosary and such
–and understandably so.
But there is still a little time: especially right now for the next 45 minutes or so,
right here at Mass, which can set the tone for all the hours ahead.
The very popular poem I quoted a moment ago,
is commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.”
But it’s proper title is, “”A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
Which reminds us of probably the most popular or iconic symbol
associated with Christmas,
at least among Americans, and especially among little children:
that would be, of course, Santa Claus.
Now, I’ve always been a big fan of Santa…
except that year he didn’t get me the pony I asked for.
And I, like so many of you, look forward to his visit tonight.
But as we make this last-minute preparation for Christmas,
I invite you to take a moment to think about Santa.
But not in his role delivering toys and presents to good boys and girls and priests,
but in his earlier life that set him up for that role.
As the poem reminds us, his real name isn’t “Santa Claus”
—that’s just a nickname for his real name, “St. Nicholas.”
When we use this name we remember that St. Nicholas
was born into a wealthy family in Turkey, in the mid-3rd century,
but he gave up all his wealth to become a monk and a priest,
which led eventually to him being made a bishop.
And while he was beloved for his kindness and generosity,
especially to little children,
and famous for the amazing miracles he worked,
like curing the sick, being in 2 places at once,
and even raising the dead,
he was even more famous and beloved
as a holy man, who believed firmly in and devoutly loved Jesus Christ,
and proclaimed that faith and love
boldly from the pulpit
and through miraculous and generous acts.
Nothing could shake Nicholas’s faith or love for Jesus,
even when he was arrested
during the last Roman persecution of Christians,
under the Emperor Diocletian.
And although he wasn’t martyred, his reputation among Christians
caused the Romans to throw into prison
and torture him horribly for months,
trying to force him to deny his faith in Christ.
But he refused, boldly continuing to profess his faith in Christ to his torturers.
Thanks be to God, eventually Emperor Diocletian died,
and the new Emperor Constantine ended the persecution.
But the Church has never forgotten his heroism,
and for that, above all, he is recognized as a Saint.
As we all look forward to St. Nicholas coming tonight,
we have to ask ourselves: how does St. Nicholas celebrate Christmas?
Of course, he flies around the world giving gifts, and all,
but why, and what is in his heart?
It seems clear to me: St. Nicholas does all this because he loves
celebrating the Birth of the one he loves with all his heart: Jesus Christ.
The one who inspired all his generosity,
and who showed his power in him through miracles.
The one he suffered so much for, the one he almost died for.
And he shows this love by giving away so many presents,
showing saintly generosity and kindness.
Because he understands that in doing this he is imitating His Master
who gave away his throne in heaven, and the adoration of the angels,
to give himself to us, first as a poor vulnerable innocent little baby,
and then ultimately, as an innocent victim of sacrifice on the cross,
all so that mankind could rejoice in his ultimate gift of salvific love.
How will you celebrate Christmas?
As you give your gifts, will you see yourself imitating Christ,
who gave himself to us 2000 years ago?
Will you follow the example of St. Nichols, the real, St. Nicholas,
and understand the joy and delight of every gift
as a foretaste of the perfect joy of Jesus love?
And will you remember that St. Nicholas began his ministry on earth
by giving away all his wealth, so he could cling to Christ alone,
so that when you receive so many wonderful presents in the coming hours,
you might imitate him,
and be grateful for every present received
but not cling to any one of them,
lest you love them more than Jesus?
And as you enjoy the warmth of the love of friends and family,
will you love them as the most special gifts from Jesus,
and so love Jesus all the more?
And as you go forward into the new year, will you cling to Christ
and let nothing —not even suffering or persecution—
cause you to cease proclaiming his glory.
We are now about to do the one thing
that St. Nicholas loved doing more than anything:
offering the sacrifice of the Mass.
Because here the God who came to us as a babe in Bethlehem
and who died for us on the Cross,
will come to us again:
the Word truly made flesh to dwell not only among us,
but even truly inside of us.
Let this Mass then be the ultimate preparation for Christmas.
For the next 30 or 40 minutes or so
put aside vision of sugar plums, and stockings, and reindeer,
and turn your minds and hearts totally to the Lord Jesus,
praising Him for all His wonderful gifts to you,
most especially the gift of Himself.
And as Jesus comes to you and gives Himself to you in the Eucharist today,
imitate the great St. Nicholas, who gave himself totally to Christ,
even to the point of imprisonment and torture,
and give yourself totally to Jesus as well.
If you do that, really do that, your Advent preparation will be complete,
and you will be truly prepared for Christmas.
Praised be Jesus Christ!…Now and forever! St. Nicholas…pray for us!