Ron Rohlheiser tells the story of when Pablo Picasso was a young child, a huge fire broke out in the city where his family lived. People were shouting and running to get help. Smoke was everywhere. It must have been terrifying. There was a lot of damage and lives were changed forever.
When Picasso later recalled all the danger and disorder of that night, he described how he was kept safe. His father placed him inside a harness-vest on his chest, like a Baby Bjorn. He was a very young child, and probably didn’t say a word. He felt no fear, only wonder and empathy, as he lay his father’s chest, watching his dad help others.
This experience was not lost on him. Several art critics have pointed out that, as an artist, Picasso painted from precisely that worldview – from a protected perch, where he could look out at all the craziness and disorder of life. It was his safe place to create great beauty.
One terrible event. One loving memory. A life changed.
I think it’s safe to say Picasso’s dad loved him. When that fire struck, he put his son in the safest place he could. Maybe that’s the part the critics don’t get. Picasso was secure in his viewpoint because he remembered he was loved.
I can remember my mom and dad visiting me in the hospital when I injured my eye in the 6th grade. I was never so frightened as a child. Both my eyes were bandaged shut. But when my parents were beside my bed, I felt protected. I felt safe.
I’m sure you can think of times when someone in your family protected you, stood by your side, loved you. And isn’t that how God loves us? By always being there for us, keeping us safe, loving us through the difficult times.
Here we have a little baby, the prince of peace, the God of the whole universe, asleep peacefully in the straw, surrounded by a loving mother, an attentive father, praying shepherds, animals close by. Although the setting has changed, the story remains the same.
Picasso never forgot the love he experienced. Mary and Joseph loved Jesus, and I’m sure he never forgot that. You have been loved, and those memories have made you who you are today. I hope even more of those memories are headed your way tomorrow morning.
When somebody does something special for you, your life is changed forever. Just like in our readings, when St. Luke tells us that “when the shepherds saw the angels, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.” Or when St Paul tells us we will be “heirs in hope of eternal life” because of this Savior we have been given. In Les Mis, Bishop Myriel forgives Jean Val Jean, and the convict is changed forever. He has bought his soul for God.
When God loves us, we love back. When we are given hope, we want everyone to be filled with hope. When we receive a present under the tree, we naturally want to give a bigger present, a better present, right back. It’s like how we feel about God: we feel the love, we know we are not worthy, and then we give that love away. That’s when we become gift, no matter how broken, no matter how weary, no matter how old.
Of course, that might be hard for some of us tonight. Our jobs, family, relationships, school may not be what we hoped. In a special way, we’re all thinking of the Loftus and the Delgado families this evening.
But you are here. At Mass. Giving thanks. And God is holding you close, waiting to see how you will create beauty in the world.
So start here. What are you going to do with those gifts of love you received this year, the ones that won’t fit under the tree? Where are you going to return the love this holiday season? How are you going to be like Picasso’s dad, like Mary and Joseph, making sure the people you love are safe and secure? Brothers and sisters, grandparents and grieving neighbors?
For it is giving that we receive…
And maybe that’s God’s Christmas message to us this evening. We are so close to God’s heart. Do not be afraid. You are safe. Go, and set the world on fire with your gifts.