Homily for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Readings taken from the Mass During the Night.
There is no doubt that this year has been one of the most challenging years in history – not just in the United States or around the world, but for each of us individually. Many of us have lost so much this year – or in the very least, have been challenged in ways that we never thought possible at this time last year. Employment issues, family drama, loved ones getting sick, maybe losing someone important to us, mental health challenges…you name it, we’ve probably been through it this year. It can be overwhelming at times and we can at points want to throw in the towel and simply say: I quit.
The temptation for us is to get stuck in the darkness, to think that there is no hope. And then we come to this celebration, the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, a celebration that invites us to embrace a sense of joy and peace even in the midst of darkness, even when we don’t feel like being joyful. This feast teaches us something about who God is and what He desires for us as His Children.
Jesus meets us in the midst of the darkness, in the midst of the uncertainty, in the midst of the chaos. How do we know this? Because God has a history of doing just that. Scripture is filled with stories of how God has been working throughout the centuries in order to save us and bring us back into relationship with Him.
Our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah is an example of how God has worked in the lives of His people. When Isaiah gave this prophecy, it was a time of great difficulty and uncertainty within the kingdom, specifically the northern kingdom. The Israelites there were under severe persecution and oppression by the Assyrians. But when their monarch dies, Isaiah announces to the people that light has shone in the midst of the darkness. “Hope for endless peace, justice, and righteousness has been kindled and burns brightly. Isaiah prophesies relief for both northern and southern kingdoms in the person of a new king who will come to the throne in the southern kingdom of Judah and will see to the reunion of the north and south and the expulsion of the Assyrians.”
But here’s the interesting part about this prophecy, it doesn’t just point to the reestablishment of the Davidic kingdom under the reign of an ideal king; it points to the promise of a Messiah who will come and whose rule will be established forever.
On Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise! Jesus coming among us, entering into the darkness and despair that we sometimes feel in order to bring us back into communion with the Father. For us, he becomes vulnerable, he takes on the fragility of human life by becoming one of us and entrusts himself to the care and protection of Mary and Joseph, depending solely on them for his needs. Vulnerability, fragility, dependency – the three characteristics that God Himself embraces in their fullness on this day.
Look at the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, smiling helplessly at his mother Mary. Look at how vulnerable he is – susceptible to the cold air of that winter night, constantly under the threat of being harmed by those who have heard about the coming of a new king. Look at how fragile he is – his tiny little fingers and toes, his developing brain, his sensitive skin, his need for someone to hold his head up. Look at his total dependency on Mary and Joseph – he relies on them for food, drink, protection, warmth, care. The baby Jesus…He is the true God, a God who comes to meet us right where we’re at.
The people of Israel expected a Messiah that was going to be mighty and powerful, who was going to lead them as a warrior and political giant. Instead, Jesus came as a tiny baby. “God became man on Christmas night over 2000 years ago because he wanted to correct our mistaken ideas about what He is like.” He wanted us to have the right idea about who He is and to be able to see how He loves us. He took on the very image of His creation, a creation molded and shaped after His image and likeness. And He did all of this so that we could live in right relationship with Him, so that we could one day be able to return to the Father.
This is why we celebrate Christmas as Christians – God comes to earth in order to lead us to heaven. But we can’t follow Him to Heaven if we first don’t invite him into our hearts. Christmas is that opportunity, it gives us the chance to ask the Lord to reveal to us those areas of our lives where we still need to grow and change. Today, Jesus asks us to approach the manger, to look into that crib and behold our tiny Savior. He calls us to see within Himself the manifested essence of vulnerability, fragility, and dependency. It is an invitation for each of us to place our own lives into His hands. We see within the Christ-child our own vulnerability, our own weakness and fragility, our own dependence on Him. This is why Christmas is one of the most valuable celebrations in the Church. It calls us to follow the example of God and to entrust ourselves to Him.
Christmas doesn’t just happen once a year though. “Every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, Jesus becomes truly present under the humble appearance of bread and wine here on the altar, just as on that first Christmas he became truly present under the humble appearance of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, as we hold the Almighty in our hands, those hands become the new manger. He again is vulnerable, fragile, and dependent upon us. We hold the very Savior of the world in our hands. He trusts us that much. Do we trust Him enough to place our lives in His hands?
As we come forward today to receive our Lord on this Christmas Morning, we are called to respond to that invitation of deeper trust and intimacy with God. Are we willing to be vulnerable with Him? Are we willing to entrust our fragility to Him? Are we willing to depend solely on Him? If we aren’t, what is holding us back? Share that with the Lord and ask Him to change it. But if we are willing, let’s do that today. Let’s recognize how Jesus comes among us as the light in the midst of our darkness and uncertainty. Let’s accept Him as our Savior so that we can embrace the joy and the hope that comes with being called sons and daughters of God.