The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic podcast episode. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 103: Christmas Changes Everything
Hi friends. If you hear this on the day it comes out, there will be just a few more days until Christmas 2022. I teach preschool music and I can tell you that the little ones are very excited, and I hope you are, too! As I look to Christmases past, some of my favorite memories are from Christmas Eve. We’re music ministers at church and traditionally play the 4pm mass. For years, our little chapel was packed at that mass, people squeezing into pews, filling the chairs which were set up in the aisle, and there was even lots of overflow into our adjoining living room area and beyond. Back then, we were bursting at the seams.
In those days, regular mass goers would know to get there by about 2:30 for the 4pm mass if they wanted to get a seat, and we music ministers would fill that waiting time with a few activities: a group carol sing, solos on flute or violin or voice from some of the teens in our community, and then at some point during that time, I would gather the little kids on the altar for a reading of one of my favorite children’s books, Jesus’ Christmas Party, complete with hand motions and musical effects from the band. I told you I was a preschool music teacher, right?
Well, in my memory, those evenings were magic. Joyous, chaotic, filled with kindness, lots of hugs, and good cheer. Gosh, I loved Christmas Eve. Things are different now, in our church, and maybe in yours, too. Most of the families who used to be a vital part of our community no longer attend mass at the chapel, or maybe anywhere, for very good reasons that are not mine to know or to share. The kids who grew into young adults, and their parents, and the ones who are still littles – they are all on my heart deeply this week, because I know I am not alone in the realization that things are different. I used to tell my CCD students that they would always have a home in church, that the doors were always open to them, and I know that for many in the American Church today, that just does not feel true. To you I will say, the Church has let you down. We let you down, and from my heart, I am so, so sorry about that. For those who are trying to live out faith lives amidst a broken church, the loss of structure around how to or even whether to celebrate Christmas can make the day complicated, confusing, and maybe even a little sad. So, I guess if I had a chance to gather those kiddos again on the altar, today’s episode is what I would share with them. So, gather round, children of every age (and yes, that includes you, friend), because today I have a story to tell, and the best thing about this story is the wondering about whether it could really be true.
As author Laura Fanucci said in a beautiful Instagram post this week which I’ll be sure to link for you in the show notes, “God is in the business of impossible things”. Let me say that again.
God is in the business of impossible things. Notice here I did not say hard things or challenging things or even wonderful things, but impossible things. Like making a way just appear out of nowhere in the wilderness, or making a stream pop up in a desert. Making the blind see and the deaf hear. Making a person who cannot walk just one day get up and leap. Even bringing the dead back to life. Now maybe you’re thinking, I have not seen God do those things, and, friend, I get it. I haven’t seen some of these things either, but as I get older, I realize that opening the eyes of the blind or making a way where there was no way or even bringing the dead back to life does not always look like what you thought it would.
But all of these things – these impossible things, are things that a prophet named Isaiah who lived many thousands of years ago, predicted that God would do. Isaiah also said that God would be born on earth to a young woman as a human baby. That ‘becoming human’ is called incarnation, a word that comes from Latin words which mean ‘to make into flesh’. You might say that God as a baby is one more of those impossible things, because why would God who is all-knowing and all-powerful ever want to become a human who gets hungry, and dirty, and who can feel pain and cry?
The impossible answer is that God who is love became a person out of love for you and me. Jesus came to teach us and heal us and show us how to live. He came to get close to us, to become one of us, to share in our human experience. His whole life was spent mixed up with us messy humans, and because that is true, our lives today can be mixed up with him, too.
Some of what Jesus taught sure seemed impossible to the people who heard him. For example, he said it was the poor, not the rich, who were blessed. He said that those who come in last here on Earth would be first in the Kingdom of Heaven. He said that people who worked one hour for God would receive the same as those who worked all day long. He said we should forgive our enemies and even love them as much as we love ourselves. He said God knows the exact number of hairs on our heads and that he has a plan for each one of us from before we were even born. He said that when we give food or clothing or water to someone who needs it (Jesus called these people “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine”), well, He said that when we do that, we are actually giving those things to God and that one day we will see just how very true that is. Wow.
And what about the ragtag group of people who gathered when Jesus was born? You would think that God becoming a human would mean that the most powerful people on Earth – politicians and celebrities and religious leaders would get a front row seat, but instead there were smelly shepherds and their sheep, a group of wise men from a faraway place who looked and sounded quite different from them. There were angels singing and they were all outside in a kind of a stable and Jesus himself was wrapped up and placed in a feed box where the animals got their food. The whole thing is kind of crazy if you ask me, but that kind of upside down, impossible story is the kind that God loves to write.
But, friend, I wonder…what if this impossible story is true?
If God became a human baby, what other impossible things might be true? Author and Franciscan priest Fr. Richard Rohr says that the way of Jesus is full of paradox, and that’s just another way to say, ‘things that don’t really make sense’. Fr. Richard says that the Christian life means that,
“We suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it away to keep it.” Let me repeat that, friend.
“We suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it away to keep it.” Huh.
He also says, “We come to God not by doing it right but by doing it wrong.”
And I wonder what you think of that, friend. All of these paradoxical ideas might be a little easier to understand as you get older, I guess, or maybe not. Even adults have a really hard time with impossible things now and again.
So, what do we do if, like Mary and Joseph, we people of faith find ourselves believing the impossible story, and we have God living inside of us as Mary did, but then we, like them, have no place to go on Christmas? Maybe church is hard or complicated right now, because we have heard a priest or a bishop or some loud public voice in the American Catholic Church say or do something or many things that just don’t sound like Jesus. Maybe we want relationship with God but we’re not sure we’ll find it in church. I’m thinking of one young friend of mine this week. He’s a thinker, and he always has been, ever since he was a baby, and he knows God well enough to know that when people speak for God, but then they don’t sound like love, that that means something is wrong. And of course, he’s right about that. Like his namesake in the Bible, my young friend hears God pretty well, I would say, but I wonder what this friend of mine might do to celebrate the impossible story of Emmanuel, of God with us this year, and what that might look like.
To him and to all of us, I guess I would offer that God is bigger. God is in the business of impossible things. He makes a way where there was no way, even if it’s not in a way we’d expect. He did that for Mary and Joseph, and he does it for us, too. If the story of God becoming a human is true, then Christmas changes everything. It would have to, and our response to that impossible story can be like those shepherds who heard an angel or like the wise men who followed a star. They followed the light they were given, one step at time, and they went where it led. And friend, we can do that, too.
So, if you find yourself at mass this Christmas or if you take a quiet moment to make room for God living inside of you, or if you find some other way to celebrate the impossible story, please do remember that we are not alone, friend, not even close. God came such a long way to make sure of it, so here in this messy, human world where miracles do still happen, I pray that you will have a very blessed Christmas indeed.
Well thanks so much for listening. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Oh God, please help us to experience the reality of Emmanuel – of God with us. Let it sink deeply into our spirits to know that you came to share in our humanity and that you love us more than we can know. For each one listening, for our dear ones, and for those for whom this time of year is a struggle, God, I lift them up to you for your peace and direction. In the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of His mother and ours, Mary, I pray, amen.
Well, Merry Christmas, my friends. Thank you so much for listening. I’ll see you next time.
This week as we head toward Christmas, we explore the God of impossible things. If the impossible story of God becoming a human is true, then that changes everything, for everyone, forever. I am particularly mindful this week of those who feel unwelcome at church or those for whom Christmas might be a particular struggle – I pray you will feel the truth of Emmanuel – of God with us (all of us!), both inside and outside of church walls.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Beautiful advent IG post from author Laura Kelly Fanucci
2. Video: Christmas Chapel Music – advent and Christmas music we recorded for our community who couldn’t attend church in December of 2020
3. Podcast: Unlocking Us with Brene Brown and Fr. Richard Rohr, on Breathing Under Water, Falling Upward, and Unlearning Certainty, part one of two
4. Children’s Book: Jesus’ Christmas Party, by Nicholas Allen
5. Song: One Day, by Christina Wells
6. Song: Wonder (Spontaneous), by Bethel Music, Amanda Cook
7. Song: Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, from Handel’s Messiah, performed by Oregon Bach Festival Choir and Orchestra
8. Song: Night of Silence/Silent Night, by Marty Haugen
9. Video: Silent Night on harp, performed by my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail. Thank you, Peter, for the gift of your harp music in each and every episode of Raised Catholic. You and your music are a gift.
10. 4th Sunday of Advent mass at St. Cecilia’s Boston – don’t miss this homily by Fr. John Unni