A Homily B Cycle - 2002-2003
Nativity of the Lord
First Reading - Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm - 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
Second Reading - Hebrews 1:1-6
Gospel - John 1:1-18
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; and light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'" From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.
This very night, three years ago, in December 1999, I had the privilege of participating in Midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It was the beginning of the Great Jubilee Year of 2000. There were over 80,000 people jammed into St. Peter's Square that cold December night and by Divine Providence, a priest friend of mine studying in Rome managed to get me one of the 7,000 highly-coveted tickets inside the Basilica. It was absolutely glorious. As John Paul II opened the great Jubilee Doors to the Basilica, the following proclamation was read, for approximately the 1,750th time:
PROCLAMATION FROM THE ROMAN MARTYROLOGY:
Today, the twenty-fifth day of December, unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image.
Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.
Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges; one thousand years from the anointing of David as king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.
In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.
The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.
Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
This passage mirrors the central theme in today's Gospel taken from St. Matthew:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us."
"For today, in the city of David - Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord."
"And the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth."
God chose to enter into human history as a man in a particular place at a particular time and chose specific persons such as Mary and Joseph to be participants in the beginning of what would lead to our redemption at Calvary. This was not by luck or by happenstance - it was by the will of the Father, the work of the Holy Spirit and the cooperation of human beings like Mary and Joseph that what we celebrate today actually took place.
All of us are born to live forever in glory in heaven. Jesus Christ was the only person born for the specific purpose of DYING for us.
We should not overlook the fact that God Himself chose such precarious means to have entered the world - to have entered time in the way He chose to through the person of Jesus. Some argue that God could have chosen any number of ways to save us. Yet, He chose the way He did and that has made all the difference. Human existence would never be the same - God has taken on our humanity and elevated it to a new dignity, not seen since Adam and Eve before the Fall in the Garden of Eden. God humbles Himself to take on our existence, not only to give us an example of how to live, but to redeem our world in its totality - that is, all of creation is renewed and reborn.
As we gaze upon the crèche this morning, we are minded of the great humility that God undertook to come among us. We are also reminded of how much more humble we all need to be for our Savior Himself chose such a very humble way in which to be born.
As an aside, many of you remember the brilliant boxing career of the great Muhammad Ali. A name like Muhammad Ali and homily material rarely cross paths, so I couldn't pass up the chance to share with you a brief story about this former heavyweight champ. It actually has lots to do with humility. Ali was on a plane with his entire entourage on his way to another title defense at some point during the height of his career. As the plane was making its way to the runway. a flight attendant asked the champ to fasten his seatbelt. Ali replied brashly, "Superman need no seatbelt," to which the flight attendant calmly replied, "Superman need no plane either!" Now, I am not one to lean on Muhammad Ali for quotes, but I think that the flight attendant's reply is instructive.
For ourselves, we ask "How often is our own self-estimation greater than the reality of things?" "How often do we make ourselves to be greater than we really are?" In comparison to God, we are nothing. And yet - that is exactly why the birth of our savior in humility should be so overwhelming for us. God actually condescended to take on our humanity. May we never forget the awesomeness of this mystery. No other world religion makes this kind of claim - that divinity would take on humanity in order to redeem it and so today, I invite each of you, in a spiritual way, to go to Bethlehem. Pay close attention to what you see and what you hear and what you feel. It is cold. It is dark. It is poor and it is VERY humble. Yet, in the serenity of that silent night, there is majesty greater than that of every kingdom this earth has seen put together. It is at long last the completion of what Isaiah had prophesied so many years ago - a Savior is born to us. He is a man like us, in all things but sin. He is born in a town called Bethlehem - which literally means "House of Bread" - a prefigurement of the Eucharist as the Bread of Life. This is why we are at Mass - to celebrate the Eucharistic mystery - the mystery in which Jesus comes to us not just at Christmas, but everyday at every Mass. May we not deprive ourselves of the Bread of Angels. Jesus thirsts for our love and gives us his very self. May we make some return of that love by our return to the sacraments with fervor.
If we find ourselves feeling as if we've been away for so long that we're beyond forgiveness, may we look upon the Christ child and His innocence and know in our hearts that Christ came for the very purpose of saving us. May we never feel as if our lives are insignificant in his eyes. His choice to come among us in order to save us is depicted in a poem that I'd like to share with you, perhaps one you have heard before:
ONE SOLITARY LIFE
He was born in an obscure village, the child of ordinary people.
He grew up in a small town in a carpenter shop until he was thirty.
Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never had a family or owned a house.
He didn't go to college.
He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him.
His friends ran away.
He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While he was dying his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth.
When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress.
All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that One Solitary Life.
This Christmas, it is my prayer that each of us opens up our hears to the coming of the Lord Jesus - not merely celebrating Christmas as the commemoration of a historical event that occurred over 2000 years ago but rather - as a real openness to self-detachment. May we separate ourselves from all those things that keep us from allowing Jesus into our lives full - be it pride or lust or sloth or a simple unwillingness to be part of the life of the Church through our neglect of Sunday Mass attendance or frequenting the Sacrament of Penance. Unlike the innkeepers at Bethlehem who could make no room for Jesus, may we be found more ready to welcome Him this day and everyday. May we always recognize the fact that Jesus comes to us at every Mass, not just at Christmas. May each of us who are disposed - receive Him worthily.
Let us do what we can this Christmas to make the path to the crib of the Christ child in Bethlehem a little easier for our families and our loved ones. May our acts of kindness and words of encouragement and peace be the greatest gift we make to our Savior as we fall on our knees and worship Him.
I'd also ask that you pray for those members of our armed forces who are separated from their families this Christmas. May they find much hope and consolation in the birth of Jesus. Only he can save us - only he can heal us - only he knows us as we truly are and only He can speak to us in the depths of our hearts as we yearn for his final return in glory.
Praised be Jesus Christ!