I’m not a praying man but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way.
-George Baily, It’s a Wonderful Life
And so, here we are…it’s Christmas Eve. The presents are bought…food prepared…families gathered. And these are good things…right?
but…maybe there wasn’t enough money for the “in” presents for your children or friends this year. Maybe you had to pick something less expensive, and you’re worried how they might react. Or maybe you bought them anyway, on credit, and now you’re worried how you will pay it off.
but…maybe your family doesn’t get along that well. Maybe, for you, family gatherings are something dread. The past dragged forward and replayed…hurtful comments…uncomfortable situations. That person that sets your teeth on edge, seemingly on purpose. Old wounds reopened…old battles resurrected.
but…maybe you can’t be with those you love. Maybe they live too far away or maybe they had other plans. Maybe you’re sick and home alone this year. Maybe you have to work.
During the holidays, the added stress piles up quickly. Christmas programs, parties at work, family gatherings…fighting the crowds at the mall…finding time to decorate and bake everyone’s favorite cookie. And no matter how early we start, it’s a rush to the finish line.
And here we are…it’s Christmas eve. For many, the rush, the stress, is just beginning. We want so much for those we love that we set impossible demands on ourselves, until we reach the point that we are actually glad when the very things we are preparing for are over.
but…I’d like to give you a gift. It comes from today’s gospel reading, from the book of Luke. Zechariah was the husband of Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, and they were celebrating, along with their family and friends, the birth of their son, John. Zechariah and Elizabeth were given a great gift. After years of being childless, well into the years when women no longer conceived, God gave them a son, John, who was to “proclaim the way” for Jesus. It was a wonderful celebration and during it, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed these words:
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
for he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hand of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
This is a canticle in the Liturgy of the Hours. This is a prayer we pray every morning, and it is a favorite of mine. In it, Zechariah declares how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament’s expectation of salvation. “He has come to his people and se them free.” Whether it is stress…or fear…or guilt…or lust…or pride, the goal of salvation is the same…to set us free, to liberate us from what enslaves us. Those things that keep us from the life God intended us for.
My favorite sentence is the last. And it contains the gift I spoke of.
in the tender compassion of our God…God’s love and mercy, available to all
the dawn from on high shall break upon us…Christ, the promised savior of the world
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death…Christ’s sacrifice for all who live in sin
to guide our feet into the way of peace…the gift of Christ in our lives.
I pray for you all the way of peace, the way that came through a tiny baby two thousand years ago. I pray for peace for our nation and the world…a peace that takes us out of the darkness and into the light. I pray for time…time to spend with God, to sit in his presence and feel his love. Be still and know that I am God.
Have a blessed Christmas…and may the love of God and the peace of the Holy Spirit go forth with you all into the New Year.
Today you will know the Lord is coming, and in the morning, you will see his glory
-Liturgy of the Hours,