Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Homily

It would have been a night very much like tonight - dark, cold and quiet.

A child was born. But he had no home. There was no place for him to stay. So his mother and father took shelter in a stable among cows, donkeys and lambs.

No doctors or nurses attended him. There were no sterile instruments to cut his umbilical cord. No anesthetics to soothe Mary's labor pains. No bottles of formula to fill his empty belly. We can only imagine Joseph's concern as he watched on, doing what he could to ease Mary's discomfort. We can only imagine their anxiety as they delivered alone their first-born son, the only Son of God, our brother.

However, God would not allow the appearance of his Son on earth to go unnoticed, without anyone to worship him. Certainly Joseph and Mary sat in awe as they held God made flesh in their arms. But just as he has gathered us here in the middle of the night, God sent angels to nearby shepherds watching their flocks at night. They were alone keeping watch when the angels announced to them tidings of great joy. At first, the appearance of the angels and their strange message gripped them with fear. Then, as the news began to sink in that they were the first to learn of the birth of their Savior, they made haste to find the place where he was staying.

Where were they to find the newborn King of the Jews? The angels gave them two clues. First, he was to be found in David's city, Bethlehem. Second, he would be lying in a manger.

David was the storied king of Israel's past. He was also born in Bethlehem. Jesus would inherit David's throne as prophesied by Isaiah to establish a rule which would never end.

The word, "Bethlehem", means "house of bread". This child would not only rule over his people, but he would be their food. He would meet the deep pang of every human heart - friendship with God. For this reason, his resting place was a manger, where straw and hay are placed for the beasts of the stable to feed on. Just so, Jesus would be food for the lowliest among us.

It is also significant that our Almighty God appears among us as a baby. When we hold a baby in our arms, something happens to us. We are moved by the child's innocence, warmth and beauty. We want nothing else but to love and protect the baby. In Jesus, God comes among us as one who is small, vulnerable and beautiful asking nothing else than that we love him. All the demands of the Christian life and all the teachings of the Church have no other purpose than to show us how to the love the God who is born to us in a manger.

We gather here at this late hour to hear the glad tidings pronounced to us once again: "A child is born to us; a son is given to us!" We receive the news with joy for it is truly good news of a God who lives among us. But where are we to find such a God this evening? He is not where we would expect. He is with the homeless woman protecting herself from the cold with only a cardboard box. He is with the child who is too poor to have presents. He is with the single mother who has to leave her children with others as she works third shift. He is with the elderly man who has no other friend tonight except the television. Jesus was born as just such an outcast and outsider.

When we leave this church tonight, we will be different because Christ is born anew in our hearts. We cannot meet Jesus, we cannot take him into our arms, and fail to be changed by him. Let us, then, not only worship him there in the stable, but pick him up and take him with us into the dark places of the world. Let us not only feed ourselves with the bread of life but take food to others. The Savior of the world was born not to leave the world as he found it but to transform it through love.

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