Christmas Eve Mass During the Night
My father was a holy man. When I was young, my dad became a charismatic Catholic, which meant he went to prayer meetings and Masses where they spoke in tongues, spoke prophesy, and were baptized in the Spirit. He was always saying “Praise the Lord” loudly and in public. I’m ashamed to say that I was often embarrassed by his public displays of religiosity.
Dad started a Charismatic prayer group at our parish. At first there were several enthusiastic participants. They met every Monday night at the church to sing, pray, and hold the needy and the sick up in prayer. People would drop off prayer requests in a little box and the group would pray for their intentions. Over time, however, the group dwindled down and down until eventually only my father was left. He went to that church every Monday night all by himself for years, praying alone in the dark.
My father died about 9 years ago after a long bout with cancer. A couple of months later, my wife and I were at a 50th wedding anniversary party for the parents of my best friend, a couple who were my second parents. At the party, a man in his late forties came up to me and sat down.
“Are you Bill Tosti’s son?” he asked.
“I am,” I said.
“I’m so-and-so and I’d like to tell you something about your father. About ten years ago I was going through a very dark time. So dark that I was seriously contemplating suicide. One night, for some reason, I stopped by the local church and stepped inside. The church was completely dark, except for the light of the presence lamp over by the tabernacle. I was drawn over to the light, and as I got closer, I saw a man kneeling in the pew next to the tabernacle. He had a bunch of slips of paper in his hand, and he was praying. As I approached, he looked up, smiled at me and said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“That night turned my life around. Your dad helped me do that. I wanted to tell you that. I’ve cleaned up my act, straightened out my life, and I’d like to introduce you to my wife.”
I’ve been waiting for you.
We have been waiting for this night for a long time. We have been buying presents and going to Christmas pageants and listening to carols and watching movies. The children most of all. All in anticipation for what tomorrow will bring.
I remember waking up one year about 5 o’clock in the morning Christmas day. We had a strict rule that my sister and I could not go out into the living room to check out the presents under the tree until my parents called us out of our bedrooms. And so I sat there, staring into the dark for three hours, until stars formed in front of my eyes.
That’s the kind of anticipation I’m talking about. I was looking forward to what was going to be under the tree. Mine was a selfish anticipation. What’s yours?
But it’s not our anticipation of Christmas that’s important. It’s God’s anticipation of Christmas for us.
You see, God has been waiting for you. Wherever you are in your faith journey, God has been waiting for you. No matter if you are a cradle-to-grave Catholic or an avowed atheist, God has been waiting for you.
God is simply waiting for you. Sometimes in the dark, oftentimes in the background rejoicing with you, and especially when times are bad.
The shepherds were waiting that night. They were just doing their job, watching over the flocks, when suddenly everything changed. Their lives were forever changed and so have been the lives of every human being since then. The appearance of the Savior was first met with fear due to a lack of understanding. That fear turned to curiosity. And so they went to the stable. And they were met with wonder and awe.
Is that your story? Are you afraid when confronted by your need for a savior? Do you seek understanding? Are you curious? Come to the stable and be amazed.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the truth of who Jesus is and what that means for us. The people of Bethlehem did not stop by the stable to see the newborn baby because of anything special about his appearance or because his mother and father were important people. They came to see this wonderful thing because the heavenly hosts were rejoicing. The shepherds were invited into the stable. They were called to see the wondrous gift God had just given them.
The angels weren’t rejoicing for Jesus, they were rejoicing for us. God’s plan for the salvation of mankind was being put into motion, and they were rejoicing in expectation of our joy.
Every one of us has been called here. God has been anticipating our coming since before we were conceived in our mothers’ wombs. He hasn’t forced us to come, he has been gently calling us. Here. Tonight. To this Mass. Does that sound silly to you? We never know when or where we will encounter Jesus. Everything in our past always leads us to this moment, and that’s all we really have, isn’t it?
Is this Mass the highpoint of your Christmas season? If not, why not? This Mass right now is why there is a Christmas. Not the presents or the food or the company we keep. The reason for Christmas is that we might be aware of the awesome closeness of our God. Maybe we don’t know or live the real meaning of Christmas. Maybe we don’t have our selfish priorities in line. It doesn’t matter. God has come to us anyway. He waits for us patiently, staring out into the darkness looking for us until there are stars in His eyes.
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Are you waiting for something more? I can’t think of a greater gift. All you have to do is reach out and take it.
What are you waiting for?