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A Christmas homily

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Whoever you are, tonight Jesus is knocking on your door, and he intends to change your history, and he intends to do it here and now.

This Christmas Eve homily was given at St. Paul Parish, Hingham by Father Paul Soper, director of the Pastoral Planning Office. He was inspired by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley's homily to Pastoral Center employees earlier in the month.

Hispanic Catholics in many parts of the world, in the nine days before Christmas, celebrate "Las Posadas." Travelers or pilgrims go to different houses in procession, much like Christmas carolers. Sometimes they carry statues of Mary and Joseph, and sometimes, as in a pageant, two of them dress like Mary and Joseph. They knock on the door of the house, and sing, "We are asking you to let us stay. My beloved wife is weary, and we cannot continue."

"We have no room!" the singers inside the house respond.

"But she's pregnant," those outside reply.

"No room, no room!" comes the retort, but eventually the door is opened, and Mary and Joseph are welcomed inside. They have a little party, with candy for the children, and some prayer, and then they move on to another house.

This, of course, is a rewriting of the history. In the Gospel account in St. Luke, there is no room in the inn, and the child is born in a stable.

But rewriting history is what Christmas is all about.

I don't know much of anything about what's in your heart or about what's in your history. I know that I am glad -- very, very, glad -- almost bursting with gladness -- that you are here, but I don't know much more than that.

Maybe you go to church every week -- maybe once a month -- maybe once a year or once a decade.

Maybe you walk on the straight and narrow path, or maybe it's all you can do to keep yourself sober long enough to kiss your kids good night.

Maybe you live in peace in your happy family, surrounded by friends and joy, or maybe you are so far estranged that family and friends and joy seem like distant, almost impossible memories.

Maybe you are a saint, or maybe you are a sinner, or maybe you are a saint who is tempted by the allure of sin or a sinner who is haunted by the relentless call to sanctity.

I don't know, but I do know this: Whoever you are, tonight Jesus is knocking on your door, and he intends to change your history, and he intends to do it here and now. Not someplace else -- tonight all places are Bethlehem. Not some other time -- there is no other time -- all moments are now. This night is not the same as others -- because this is Christmas, there is something at work in the world at this moment -- no, what I mean to say is that there is someone at work in the world at this moment -- working in the world and working in you. He is knocking and he intends to come in and change your history and disrupt your life with his terrible good.

All well and good, you may say, but how do I invite him in? I have three suggestions, and they are connected to one another.

First, just say the words. They are powerful words. "Jesus, please, I don't even know what this means, but I open my heart to you. Enter my life, and remake me."

Second, pray. Make a commitment that, between now and New Year's Day, you'll say the Our Father once each day -- slowly, when you are alone, and with your eyes closed. And, if any other opportunities come up for prayer, like someone asking you to pray for them or even with them, grab those opportunities. I know it's awkward to pray with someone else, but do it anyway.

Third, just about every supermarket has a box for a local food pantry. Buy something, and put it in the box. But don't just do that -- it's too easy to be distant from that. As you put it in the box, pray quietly, "Jesus, I do this for you, and for myself, because when I take care of the poor, I open myself more and more to you."

The messenger star hangs above this place, and there is no more room for doubt. This is the hour. This is the place. He is knocking. Please, please, I beg you, please -- invite him in. Here. Now. Don't turn him away.

FATHER PAUL SOPER IS DIRECTOR OF THE PASTORAL PLANNING OFFICE OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.

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