Christmas – Mass in the Night
Preached December 24, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
This evening our eyes turn towards the manger and the little child who is born there. He is the great light that has dawned for us; he is proclaimed as Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace; he is proclaimed as the Messiah and Son of David who brings to fulfillment the prophecies and hopes of the Old Testament. Yet, all these titles of praise, tell us chiefly what he does for us; we still need to ask, with the Christmas Carol, “What child is this, who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”
The answer to that question will be given during the Mass of Christmas day when we hear the opening of St. John’s Gospel. Then veils of eternity will be drawn back and we will hear about the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that was God, the Word through whom all things were made.
As the Gospel continues we will hear that the same Word became flesh and dwelt among us, that we have beheld his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. Finally, we will learn that while no one has ever seen God, this same eternal Word, God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, has revealed him to us. That is the splendid truth that is hidden in the simple child sleeping on Mary’s breast. That is the light that has dawned.
That light reveals God to us, but also reveals us to ourselves. Revealing us to ourselves that light teaches us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Godless ways come about when the human reason – the power that lies behind our power of speech – is by a choice of the will closed off to the fullness of reality and closed in on the material world alone. When human reason becomes godless the obstacles to worldly desire and the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure, power, and prestige are removed and human life hastens downwards along the broad and easy way that leads to destruction.
Human reason, though, is a power that comes from God, a power that opens us to know the reality that he created, ourselves as part of that reality, and is even capable of attaining to the knowledge of God, the Creator. In essence reason is a power open to reality. By becoming flesh the Word that was in the beginning, would actually heal our mind and makes us capable once again of beholding reality in its fullness and himself, the author of all.
We are most ourselves when we live a life, in the flesh, but governed by reason, illumined by the faith that comes from God. That leads us to live temperately, justly, and devoutly.
Temperance, through which we master the desires of our flesh, does not eliminate the natural desires of our flesh nor deny the goodness of the created material world in which we live, but subordinates those desires to higher goods.
Justice sets us in a right relation both to the whole human community, to each of its parts, and to each other individually. Justice does not clamor for ‘my rights’ or ‘my entitlement’, but seeks above all the common good.
Devotion or religion subordinates all of human life and desire to God, to his will, to his plan, to his wisdom.
That is the truly reasonable life that has been revealed to us in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He has shown us how to live rightly as human beings and he has given us the power to do so.
All this about ‘reason’, what about love? Isn’t it all about love? Godless and worldly desires may sometimes present us with the attraction of a false love, but they deny the substance and power of true love. True love requires that we love Jesus Christ and the life that he has shown us; true love requires that we live temperately, justly, and devoutly. True love and right reason are as inseparable as the Son and the Holy Spirit are inseparable. The Word that was in the beginning is the Word that breathes love, not the false love of carnal passion, but the pure love of the Holy Spirit. This is the love that is witnessed in the poor manger of Bethlehem, in the child cradled in the arms of his most pure Mother and in St. Joseph, the silent guardian and witness of it all.