Last August I wrote that each week I’m writing a homily based on the current readings in the Catholic lectionary. It’s been both rewarding and difficult. I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of positive feedback but I do confess that writing a homily while working a 40 hour week has, at times, been time consuming.
Today is Christmas and I’m posting the homily I wrote. You can find the readings here.
Brief synopsis of the readings: There are four masses for Christmas: Vigil, Midnight, Dawn, and During the Day. I’ve chosen to preach on the readings for the Mass at Midnight, for no other reason that they are my favorite. The first reading from Isaiah uses imagery of light out of darkness. He also speaks of a child being born who will be Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. The Gospel is from Luke and it is one of the most evocative images. If you’ve ever watched The Charlie Brown Christmas, this is the account Linus gives when on stage.
And now it’s finally arrived: we’ve made it through Black Friday, doorbusters, endless traffic jams at the malls, competition for the hot new gift, and, and, and, the Season of Advent. The Messiah whose coming we have been awaiting is now here. But how can we tell? This newborn baby looks like the rest of us, born in a barn, and with uncertain parentage. Is this Jesus really the Messiah? Wonder Counselor? God Hero? Father Forever? Prince of Peace? I have to tell you, this is a little disappointment. Is this really how God meant to bring his Son into the world? Me, I’d make a bigger entrance.
Well, that’s probably another good reason that I’m not God. It’s been kind of a theme for me, but when we talk about Salvation through Jesus Christ it’s much more than we can imagine. The Jews of Jesus’ time were, frankly, looking for a military leader who would defeat the Romans occupiers.
But God had bigger plans for us. He sent us a Messiah who is much more than a military leader, he sent us Jesus who was both God and Human, both Divine and Corporeal. He sent us a Messiah who could not only bring us the Truth of Salvation, he could also experience and celebrate our own experience.
We can look on this helpless baby, this bundle who cannot walk or talk, as something small and inconsequential. Or we can look at this baby through God’s eyes: as someone who will become the One who conquered death. OK, let’s face it: we all love babies. We love them not for what they can do, but for who they are. We love babies because we love the fact that we can care for those who are helpless and we know they will grow with the potential to do great things. We know that this bundle of joy may one day be an Albert Einstein or a Martin Luther King or a Nelson Mandela. And even if this bundle doesn’t do that, he or she will become a person we will continue to love. He or she will grow up and be a husband or wife, a mother or father, a coworker or entrepreneur. A good friend and neighbor, a confident and good listener. A great bowling partner or copilot. The man or woman who teaches history or soccer, the person who throws the incredible curve or finds a way to finally explain trigonometry.
When I look at Jesus as an infant, I like to think that we get a glimpse of how we all look to God. Only God knows our potential, and let’s face it: we don’t know our own potential, let alone that of others. We are not given that gift.
But we are given the gift to do what this infant in the manger does: we can see hints of the gifts of others. Just as Jesus was able to look at lepers and strangers and the outcast and say “You are just as wonderful as anyone and you belong with us” we can do the same.
When Pope Francis chose to celebrate his 77th birthday with the homeless, I think he understood exactly what Jesus had in mind when He decided to redeem the world. We may look on them as homeless, as those who are there because of their own bad choices, but Pope Francis chose to look on them as exactly the people Jesus did.
When I look on Jesus as an infant, I’m struck by how he needed those around him. Not only Joseph and Mary, who gave him the nutrition and love every human needs, but even the farm animals who gave up their feeding trough so he would have a place to sleep. I look at the shepherds who were consoled by the angel. These were not great men: they were looked down upon because the violated the Sabbath by watching over their flocks by night. They didn’t provide anything physical to Jesus but in their prayers they recognized that much like their lambs, this baby would grow into something they needed. Their humility game them the eyes to see the Truth.
And now, over two thousand years later, we still need to be in that manger scene. We often fool ourselves into thinking that we are self sufficient and that what we have is a result of what we’ve done. We may have done great things, but this night we celebrate that they pale in comparison to what was done long ago and far away. We need to understand again that the thin, reedy voice of an infant blows into our world the very breath of Heaven.
In the meantime let us continue to pray for each other and for peace on earty.