Many years ago, at a Youth Ministry conference, I heard a speaker (it might have been Tom Booth?) talk about the day his son fell off a dock into the lake. He said that when he saw his child in trouble, heard him cry out to his father for help, he had never felt love like that before.
That story moved me because I know that so many of us are reluctant to turn to God when we're really low, when we're struggling, when we're drowning in stress and anxiety. But God wants to hear from us then- when we cry out to God in distress, we can imagine that like the drowning boy's father, God will be moved with immense love to come to us.
I had a friend who had been away from church for a while, and as Easter approached, I asked if she'd be going to church to celebrate. She said "no, after being away for so long it seems wrong to go suddenly on Sunday." I thought that was a funny thing. Even when I've not heard from a friend in forever, I'm so touched to get a greeting from them on my birthday. I don't think "sheesh, all this distance, and now they want to celebrate me? Whatever!!" I can't imagine that God is ever sorry to hear from us, whatever the occasion.
I've heard, too, that parishes need to be more like AA meetings. When an alcoholic comes to a meeting, no matter how long it's been, they're welcomed- no "where have you been? Why haven't you been coming? What have you been doing instead of coming to meetings?" Their fellow group members know that it's a good thing whenever someone comes to a meeting. The important thing isn't why they've been away, but that they're there- and that by being there, they might be saved from a life of suffering with addiction.
This Christmas we can rest assured that there will be people among us who haven't been to Mass in some time- maybe since last Christmas- and we have an opportunity to love like God loves. We must welcome the sufferer, the guilty, the distant. We must show everyone that God is glad to see them, no matter why they've been away, and no matter why they've come back.