Christmas Mass 2019
Preached December 25, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light…
Today we come to the manger where Jesus Christ is born. We come now to what is truly important. I assure you that when the shepherds beheld the Holy Infant, lying in the manger, they forgot all their cares.
Let us then, at least for a moment, leave aside all the things, whether in our own lives or in the world at large that preoccupy us, that cause us distress or anxiety, that cause sorrow or fear. Let us leave aside our pride, our anger, our greed, and our lust; let us leave aside all of our sinful desires, because the One who would purify us of our sins and bring all right desire to fulfillment is here. Christ, the Savior is born!
Let us awake from the spiritual torpor that holds us bound and, at least for a moment, welcome the light that has dawned and try to give it our full attention.
Today, the invisible is made visible in the simplicity of the manger in Bethlehem.
“In the mystery of the Word made flesh a new light of glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that, as we recognize in him God made visible, we may be caught up through him in love of things invisible.” (Cf. Preface I of the Nativity)
The glory of the visible, material world is that it is capable of teaching us about God; nevertheless, sin had blinded the human mind, rendering the visible world mostly opaque. When the Word became flesh, he opened the visible world anew to the light of God, most of all through is own Body, born of the Virgin Mary, then in the visible sacraments of his Church.
For this reason, we must not simply stop at the appearance of the child in the manger, as though that were all there is to it; this is not just a teaching about the beauty of human life and the value of each child. We must learn to gaze upon this child as upon a window into the realm of God’s glory; he is the revelation of God; we can even use that dreaded word and say that he is ‘the Apocalypse’ – for the word means ‘revelation’.
St. John tells us: No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him. (Jn 1:18)
Yes, he will do this by his teaching; he will do this by his miracles; he will do this by his death on the Cross; he will do this by his resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven. Yet, it is not chiefly a matter of what he does, but of who he is, the Son of God, who is also the Word of God. This is what shines forth in the mystery of Christmas.
The Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14)
This is the Word made flesh that lies in the manger.
The Infant in the manger, shows us that in all eternity God speaks one Word, who is his Son; God speaks one living Word, who so fully expresses himself that he perfectly reproduces himself; he is his Son.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; this was in the beginning with God. Through him all things were made. (Jn 1:1-3)
Together, the Father and the Word breath forth the Holy Spirit of divine love, the third person of the Trinity. The Word of Divine Knowledge and the Breath of Divine Love are inseparable. Truth and Love are inseparable.
The child in the manger reveals the Word whom he is, spoken to us in love by the Father. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that all who believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)
God’s love is revealed because he shows us the truth of who he is and his plan of salvation for us; this is a gift of love. Indeed, he trains us to reject godless and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this world, looking forward to the hope of eternal life. This is a great act of divine love and mercy.
God’s love is true, because all of this is real, it is no mere fairy story. All this really happened during the reign of Caesar Augustus in Rome, a little more than 2,000 years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, in the land of Judah. Joseph wrote the name of Jesus in the census register. The Word was made flesh and you can go to Bethlehem, visit the Church of the Nativity, and kiss the spot where Jesus was born. I have done it.
This is love, that God wanted to be with us, in the poverty and simplicity of our life, in order that we might be forever with him in the glory of God. Before he left this world, Jesus prayed, Father, they are your gift to me. I want that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you have given me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (Jn 17:24)
This same love of God, wanting to be with us and wanting to bring us to be with him forever, is made present on the altar at every Mass, when the bread becomes the same Body of Christ, born of the Virgin Mary.
He entrusted himself to us to Mary as a frail, silent Infant; he entrust himself to us as the frail, voiceless Host, in Holy Communion. He entrusts himself to us and asks that we entrust ourselves to him.
He is truly Emmanuel – God with us. This is love; this is truth.
In him the grace of God has appeared in its fullness and from that fullness we have all received. Through faith and baptism we have even received the power to become children of God. This is grace, the pure gift of God’s love, that he makes us his children, sharing his very life. This is the truth of the Word that he has spoken to us in the flesh of Jesus Christ.
This was the plan of God from the beginning. St. Paul writes: Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rm 8:29) He who was the Only Begotten in eternity, has become the Firstborn through his birth in time from the Virgin Mary.
Yes, God had all this planned out from eternity. He promised it to Abraham to David. He announced it beforehand through the prophets. Nothing in all of history was ever planned as was the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and we are part of that plan.