I have made a commitment to offer the greeting “Merry Christmas” as many times a day as I can. I applaud the Knights of Columbus who have been strongly supporting this effort “to keep Christ in Christmas.” I do this with no disrespect to any person of another faith. I would hope that in the particular important dates of their respective faith, they would share these moments with me so that I may celebrate with them their faith, too.
I journeyed on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem earlier this month and this desire to be his disciple is now even stronger a daily invitation I hear from my God. These past four weeks in our celebration of Advent, we have been given time to prepare, to anticipate, to watch, wait, and be hope-filled. As a Christian Catholic this time is all about God inviting us to make a place and make room in your heart for Jesus.
Back in 1968 when I was only 9 years old I lost my first grandparent, my dad’s mom, Verna Leona (Gardner) Edwards. I can remember to this day Jenny Mc Evoy singing what I later heard was one of my grandmother’s favorite hymns of her Methodist church, Have You Any Room for Jesus. It would always bring my father to tears.
I remember the words “Have you any room for Jesus, he who bore your load of sin, as he knocks and asks admission, sinner will you let him in? Room for Jesus, King of Glory, hasten now his Word obey, swing your hearts door widely open, bid him enter while you may, room for pleasure, room for business, but for Christ the crucified, not a room that he can enter, in the hearts for which he died. Room for Jesus, King of Glory, hasten now his Word obey, swing your hearts door widely open, bid him enter while you may.” Go online and listen to a recording of this beautiful hymn, it will inspire you and challenge you as well.
The first Disciples when asked to “Come and Follow Me” were invited to a personal relationship with Jesus. To walk side by side, to enter into his ministry of bringing healing, offering mercy, and sharing love with all creation. As I was able to trace back and walk much of where Jesus lived out his ministry, as powerful as these moments were, the Apostles had Jesus physically with them. As he was forming them into worthy ministers of the Gospel, he was truly tugging at their hearts seeking to fill them with an abundance of his grace, peace and love. Christmas is all about this continued gift of himself and these gifts of his grace, peace, mercy, hope and love to fill the hearts where we have allowed him to dwell. The hymn reminds us that in this personal relationship we call “faith” Christ will always “knock that he may enter.” Advent centers on this truth that in our own free will, it is up to us “to let him enter.” It is our seeking, our desire, our hope, and our willingness to allow Christ into our hearts. This must be first take place, if we are ever to truly be his “intentional disciples.”
I hope that everyone has a “Happy Holiday” and a “Blessed New Year, 2017” but wishing everyone “Merry Christmas” is so much more than a nice holiday greeting. It is about offering to another a wish, a prayer, a hope that the true gift of this season, Jesus Christ, may become their treasured gift, and that he may dwell in their heart in a powerful way bringing to them his grace, peace, mercy, hope, love and joy. It is not just about bringing happiness — it is about transformation, the transformation the Apostles were invited to by the Lord who walked with them. The church offers these four weeks of spiritual preparation while in many ways counter-culturally we are bombarded by the “shop will you drop” mentality of the secular society. For those who have faith and a personal relationship with Christ that is stronger than the ways of our society, we know what is the greater “reason for the season.”
St. Catherine of Sienna said, “The more I seek (Christ) the more I find (Christ), and the more I find (Christ) the more I seek (Christ).” At a young age of 18 she joined the Third Order Dominicans. She had already chosen to make a public betrothal to Christ earlier as a child. She was all about establishing a personal relationship first with Christ then she could “totally surrender” her life to Christ. At a young age she was “overly encouraged” by her mother to work on her appearance in order to seek out a husband to marry. In opposition she cut off all her hair. Her father, in order to reprimand her, sent her into seclusion and gave her a private room for prayer and meditation. It was there she began to become a true mystic in the church. It was there that she made a “room in her heart for Jesus.” Christ for sure came to dwell in the heart of this young saintly woman, who was born on the feast of the Annunciation, and who died at the age of 33, the same as Christ. I doubt these facts are purely coincidental.
I wish “Merry Christmas” to all of you who read our Catholic Times. Open your hearts’ doors for Jesus to come and dwell. Be transformed into true bearers of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Allow his presence to lead you to a life of action in Christ. Intend daily to go out and help further Christ’s mission to go make disciples. Sing with me the final words of this great old Methodist hymn: “O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee, yea there’s room in my heart for thee.” Merry Christmas!