Father Christopher Walsh, pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Church, delivered these remarks at the annual Soulful Christmas Concert at the Kimmel Center on Dec. 10, 2019.
Four years ago, in the weeks before Christmas, I went to one of the chain hair salons for a haircut. It had been a snow day, school was off, and our church office was closed. I was delighted when I walked into the place and it was empty. I was able to sit down in the chair, and the stylist began cutting right away.
After some initial pleasantries, she asked if I had the day off because of the snow. I told her that I’d done some work at my desk and relaxed a bit. She then asked if my wife and kids had been off. To be fair, I was dressed casually so she had no idea that I was a Catholic priest. I responded that I was not married and didn’t have kids. Relentless, she shared that she was divorced and asked if I also was divorced. I smiled and said, no, I’d never been married. The conversation was put on pause. I feared that if I explained that I was a priest I would have made things awkward, so I enjoyed the silence. Perhaps she was unsure what to say next.
As the haircut was ending, the stylist informed me that since there were no other customers, and she’d be done for the day once she was finished with me. She proceeded to tell me that she was going to a local place for a drink and invited me to join her. I smiled and thanked her, but politely declined. At this point I made a mental note to stick with barber shops, where I never engage in these kinds of conversations. She asked if I lived in the area, I told her I lived about 15 minutes away. She then suggested that perhaps we could get together for a drink another time.
It was then that the light went on. I was being hit on. I know some may think that I was awfully naive, but at this point in my life I had not been on a date in 22 years. I have been off the market for a long time, but it seems like I still had it in me. I smiled at her offer, and politely declined.
When I walked out of the shop that night, I had a renewed sense of vibrancy. I felt younger. I had been hit on by a beautiful woman, and it felt good. It feels good to know that someone is attracted to you. If feels good to know that someone wants to spend time with you. It feels good just to be noticed.
The reason I share this as we approach Christmas is that the whole mystery of God becoming one of us happens because God is attracted to us. God wants to spend time with us. God notices us and knows what we need. Jesus became one of us to be near us, to let us know that we are lovable and that we are cared for by God.
Many of our favorite Christmas songs use the word “Emmanuel” — Hebrew for “God is with us.” God is with us, because He wants us, desires us, seeks us out so that we might enter into a loving relationship that transforms us and makes us new.
God is not attracted to us because of our good looks, our sense of humor, or because of what we can do that might impress another person. Rather, God is attracted to our weakness and sin. God is attracted to our dependency and neediness. We do not need to pretend that we have it all together when it comes to God. He knows we do not. Rather, we can be ourselves.
God understands our failures, fears, worries, doubts and struggles — and is still very attracted to us. God is attracted to you. He knows it all and still wants to be Emmanuel — God with you! He may not take you to the place at the end of the block for a drink, but He does promise to take you to the glory of heaven. This Christmas, give yourself a treasured gift, let Him love you and be with you in some new way.