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December 25, 2019
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu]
In 1988, when I was a pastor of a parish in Oakland, my very dear friend was looking for the woman of his dreams. I told him that we had a very nice second grade teacher in our parish school and asked if he would like to meet her. To make a long story short, they have now been happily married for thirty years and have three adult sons. Mary Alice always had a great love for the feast of the Epiphany, so that was the day Kevin chose to ask her to marry him. He planned the whole day very carefully. First he sent a dozen roses and asked me to deliver them to her at school. That evening, he selected a very special restaurant with just the right atmosphere. At the end of dinner, he gave her a large box and asked her to open it. Inside the box was some lotion, which he said was like the gift of myrrh, which the Magi presented to the Baby Jesus. There was another box inside of that large box, and when she opened it, there was a perfume she liked, which he said was like the gift of frankincense. Within that box there was a smaller box, which, of course, contained the “gold” of the engagement ring he had carefully selected for her. It was story-book romantic evening because he wanted to show her how much he loved her.
Christmas, too, is story-book romantic, because God wants to marry us; to be so intimately one with us that he became one of us in the person of Jesus. And he, too, prepared for that wonderful day very carefully, orchestrating the most touching and dramatic scenarios so that we would know how much he loves us. He arranged for an old man and an old woman who had been barren to have a special child in their old age, a child who would prepare the way for his Son. He sent the Angel Gabriel to propose to the woman who would represent the whole human race, and he clothed her with his Son’s salvation from the first moment of her conception. He arranged for a righteous and holy man who could believe the unbelievable to be her husband and the protector of the child begotten by the power of the Holy Spirit. He arranged for the Emperor to decree a census of the whole world, ordering each person to register at his ancestral home, just so that Joseph and Mary could be in the town of Bethlehem, where King David had his origins – the king to whom God had promised that his descendant would sit upon his throne forever. God arranged for that little town of Bethlehem to have a name meaning “house of bread,” and he arranged that his beloved Son, the eternal Word made flesh, would be laid in a manger, a feeding trough, so that he could remind us that he would become for us the Bread of Life, so that eating his flesh and drinking his blood, we could live forever. God arranged for a choir of angels to announce the birth of his beloved Jesus, and chose shepherds as the first to hear the glad tidings, because they would know a good lamb when they saw one and would recognize Jesus as the Lamb of God who would sacrifice his life to take away the sins of the world. God peaked the curiosity of wise men and placed a star to guide them to find and bow down before the wisest man they would ever know, whose teachings are still a source of great wisdom for us. God planned all this romantic and beautiful drama to touch our hearts so that we would want to accept his offer to marry us in the most intimate union of heaven and earth, of divinity and humanity.
Now my friends are not always as romantic as on the day of their engagement. Like anyone they have their disagreements, their moments of hurt, and their struggles in life. But because they sealed their love from the beginning with such romance, their love is strong and very beautiful.
We, too, may not always feel the romance of God-with-us. We may question God when a loved one suddenly dies; when a debilitating disease strikes a person; or when violence erupts between spouses, between groups, or between nations. We may be scandalized by the ordained servants of God who hurt children rather than help them to be holy. We may feel frustrated when we see so many homeless people and do not know where to begin to reach out to them to restore their dignity. We may wonder if talk of peace on earth brought by the Prince of Peace is a mere naïve pipe dream. We may feel abandoned when the one who came to save us from our sins seems so distant when we struggle with sins and addictions of various kinds. We may walk in such darkness that we wonderful whether we will ever be able to see a great light.
But today reminds us that God has done the unbelievable for us. We know how important it is to believe in God, yet become discouraged when we end up believing only in ourselves and our own desires; but today we are told in such a beautiful way that God believes in us. It is precisely when we understand this that our senses are open to the God who gives us light, and beautiful music, rich food and choice wine, so that he can woo our hearts to himself and open them more and more to the Savior. God has worked and planned and schemed mightily just to melt our hearts so that they may be open to his love shown us in the God-made-man. Despite the challenges of life, and despite its darkness, he romances us with the beauty of Christmas, so that we may be one with him forever in the intimacy of the Word-made-flesh, in the Bread of Life, in Jesus, our Savior and our Lord.