Some of you reading this may not be regulars around the altar on Sundays. And when you get there this Christmas, you may feel underdressed or confused by responses that don’t feel familiar. You may feel crowded and out of place. There may even be people at Mass who deliberately make you feel unwelcome. I’m so sorry if coming home makes you feel even more alone. Since I can’t be at every parish this Sunday, I’m going to tell you what I’d say to you if I met you outside the church or had a chance to speak from a pulpit knowing that you hadn’t been to Mass in a while.
Welcome, friends! I am thrilled that you’re here. Really–whatever you’re wearing, whatever ink and piercings you’ve got, however long it’s been, whatever brought you here and whoever you’re with, I’m delighted!
You see, you’re the reason we’re here. Truly. The very reason Christmas exists, the reason this church exists, is that the God who made you was desperate to save you. He wanted more than anything to know you and be known by you. Not y’all, but you–just you. And so he came.
But he knew that some of you would feel ashamed of your weakness. So he became weak. He knew that some would feel judged. So he was born under shadow of scandal. He knew that some would feel unwelcome. So he was turned away from the inn. You are not an afterthought. You’re the reason for the season. Oh, Jesus is the reason for the season. We all know that. But you are the reason the Christ child was born 2000 years ago–to seek and save the lost.
So of course I’m excited to see you! Because as glad as I am that you’re here, nothing could match the joy that the Father takes in seeing you here tonight. Heaven is rejoicing right now because you’ve come home.
I know some of you have been away for a long time. It doesn’t matter. This is still your home. Maybe life just got busy and you drifted away; I get that. Maybe there’s some teaching of the Church that you don’t feel you can accept; believe me, I’ve been there. Maybe you’ve suffered too much to believe in a loving God; you are not alone. Whatever’s kept you away, the Lord is inviting you tonight: let this Christmas be the beginning of a new life. Come home.
But I know there are others among us tonight who’ve been hurt, terribly hurt by the Church or her representatives. And I want to speak to you right now:
I am so sorry.
Whatever was done to you, whatever was said, however you were attacked or ignored, I am so sorry. On behalf of Christ’s Church, I beg your forgiveness. You did not deserve to be hurt and the Lord wept with you. But please don’t let the sins of fallen people keep you from the endless love of the Father. This is always your home. Come home.
Now you may not be aware, but we do this every week. True story–every Sunday, same time, same place. We won’t look as nice and the music might not be as good, but the same God comes down in the Eucharist, handing himself over for you again just as he did that first Christmas, and we’d love it if you’d join us.
When we come to that part of Mass tonight, to communion, I want to invite everyone here to ask yourself if you’re ready to give yourself completely to him. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve been to Mass, maybe you’ve got some serious sin on your heart, maybe you haven’t been to confession in a long time–regulars and visitors, if you’re not prepared to receive him, we’re going to ask you to stay in your pew and pray with your whole heart that the Lord would come into your life and transform you. It’s called a spiritual communion and it’s incredibly powerful.1 But whether you’re coming up or staying where you are, there is no judgment. We’re all just rejoicing that you’ve come home.
You may not remember the words to some of the prayers, or you may not have been here since we got our new translation. There’s no judgment–we’re all just glad you’re here. So sing along to the familiar hymns and let the sights and smells remind you that you belong here. Christmas is a celebration of a God who came down to save those who had wandered from him. It’s your feast day. Joy to the world and welcome home.
- In some churches, it’s customary to receive a blessing if you’re not receiving communion. In those churches, I’d say, “We’re going to ask you to come forward to receive a blessing instead.” [↩]