Preached December 25, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Christmas is a time of dreams of ‘peace on earth’, but with each passing year we seem to be farther from the reality. Perhaps that is because we start with the wrong end of the message; we have forgotten the first part of the angelic song, “Glory to God in the highest.” In truth there will be peace on earth only in the measure that men learn first of all to give glory to God through Jesus Christ.
So let me begin with some words of praise to God.
The Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word through whom all things were made, became flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. That means that he Son of God, Jesus Christ, was born twice. As we say in the Creed, He as born of the Father before all ages and by the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man. He was born of the Father in eternity, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, and he was born a man of the Virgin Mary in the town of Bethlehem at a specific time in human history.
He was born visibly of the Virgin Mary in order to make known to us his invisible birth from the Father; he was born visibly of the Virgin Mary in order to manifest the hidden mystery of God, the Most Holy Trinity.
Also, the one who was born eternally of the Father was born a second time as man, so that we who receive a human birth, might receive a second birth in God. To those who did accept him he gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name.
He gave us that power not just through his birth, but by purifying us from our sins through his death on the Cross. We received that new birth, together with the forgiveness of sins, in our baptism, but the divine life that in Christ, the Son of God, is perfect in eternity, only grows to perfection in us through the temptations and trials of our life in time.
So also, the Word did not just become flesh, but he dwelt among us and he continues to dwell among us, so that by his presence in our midst he might guide us on our pilgrimage to his Father’s house.
Even though wars with bombs and guns continue in distant lands, even though domestic conflicts with screams and shouts continue in nearby homes, Peace came down from heaven to earth.
This is neither a dream nor a fairy tale; Peace came down from heaven to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God born of the Father before all ages and born of the Virgin Mary more than 2,000 years ago in the town of Bethlehem.
The Prince of Peace entrusted himself to the loving arms of his Virgin Mother and he continues to entrust himself to Mother Church and, though we cannot pretend to have welcomed him as the Virgin did, he entrusts himself to us anyway.
More than 2,000 years ago Peace came down in the town of Bethlehem, which means House of Bread.
The shepherds heard the angelic message and came and adored him. What does that mean? They did not ‘adore’ him as we speak of someone ‘adoring’ a cute baby. They adored him in the strict sense of rendering him the highest worship.
They came to the manger and did not gawk and gab, the did not pull at their cell phones at snap photos, much less selfies, rather they knelt in faith, filled with awe and wonder. They knelt before the poverty of the manger and the simplicity of the child; they opened their hearts to him; they placed themselves without reserve and condition as his service; they wanted nothing more than to be ruled by that child as by their king and their God.
They fulfilled the words of the Psalmist: Be still and know that I am God. (Ps 46:11) They let go all of their resistance, opened their hearts and received the peace that surpasses understanding that only Christ can give. (cf. Ph 4:7)
The scene the shepherds saw is represented for us tonight by the display of the manger. The manger, however, is but a sign that points us to the reality that is always present in our midst. Jesus, the Bread of Life, was born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread. So also each day he gives himself anew to us from the altar in the Holy Eucharist; so he abides always in our midst in the tabernacle; so he invites us to visit him as the shepherds did long ago; so he invites us to kneel before the poverty and simplicity of the appearance of bread; so he tells us ever anew, Be still and know that I am God.
The magic of Christmas reminds us of the greatness of the reality of every day. The church is open and waiting; so often we just rush right by without thinking about it. When you are out shopping, or going from home to work, or work to home, when you are filled with joy, or are filled with sorrow, Jesus waits for you in the tabernacle. Jesus invites you to stop in, to bow before him, to rest in his presence, to open your hearts, to give him your joys and sorrows, and finally to be still, to be at peace in the presence of God.
The Word became flesh, the Son of God became man, not that he might briefly appear for a short space of 30 years, but that he might truly be for us Emmanuel (“God with us”). He has remained with us for 2,000 years hidden beneath the appearances of bread and wine. He remains with us so that one day we might also be where he is and behold his glory in our Father’s house in heaven.