Homily, Christmas Day
I have many fond memories of Christmas as a kid, having trouble sleeping over the excitement of the new presents the morning would bring, or wanting to catch a glimpse of Santa or the reindeer. Having nine kids in the house, my parents never had a lot of extra money, but they always saved enough to make Christmas really special for us. I know that to a lot of you I still look like a kid, but my Christmas this year was very different from what I remember when I was younger. Instead of having any trouble sleeping, after serving the midnight Mass and lying down for a few hours, I had to drag myself out of bed to celebrate this Mass at 7:30. Kids seem to have an easier time entering into the Christmas spirit, but as we grow older, we spend a lot of our time just trying to recapture something of what we experienced at Christmas in the past. I know that not everyone has such fond memories of childhood, and even for those who do, chasing sentiments and memories can end up being pretty futile if we’re not also and always seeking to deepen our appreciation and relationship with the Child sent from God Who was born for us so many years ago. We have to look to the meaning of that first Christmas if we want to not just look back fondly but be able to look forward to many Christmases to come.
We’ve all gathered to remember and to celebrate the first Christmas, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but have you ever wondered why it was such a big deal? What difference does it make? Why base our entire numbering system of years on this one event, so that everything in history happened either before Christ or in the year of our Lord? What did Christ bring us at that first Christmas? What was the gift He gave us? What did Jesus bring? In the history of God’s chosen people, the throne of David sat empty for almost 600 years. For 600 years the Jews waited for the return of their king. They awaited the Messiah, the Son of David who would deliver them from everyone who made them suffer, the Christ who would establish a kingdom of perfect peace and justice. But what did the Jews get for Christmas, those many years ago? A tiny, helpless Child, born into poverty, unable to wield a sword. A Boy at age twelve who submitted to the authority of his parents. And finally, a carpenter, a teacher, a healer, but ultimately a Man unwilling to defend even himself, let alone the Jewish nation, when He was accused before their Roman rulers. A Man betrayed and abandoned by His closest friends, to suffer a most shameful torture and death on a Cross, at the hands of the Roman oppressors that He was supposed to conquer.
This is how many saw Jesus at the time of His death. A disappointment, a failure, not the one they had been looking for. This is still how many people see Jesus today. He came two thousand years ago to establish a kingdom of peace and justice, but two thousand years later, the world doesn’t seem all that different. There is still war, conflict, sickness, suffering, terrorism, the taking of innocent life, and countless crimes and injustices, and in many places there is more now than in the time before He came. So what difference did Jesus make in history? What did Jesus bring?
Jesus brought God. Jesus brought God into our weakness, into our suffering and pain, into our sickness, into our joys and into our failures, into our work and into our relationships; Jesus brought God into every human experience. Jesus brought God into the world and into human history to purify it of sin, of its turning away from Him, and to let us know that we are never alone, that we belong to Him, that God has chosen us for Himself and longs to be with us forever. Jesus brought God into our suffering and death to let us know that He suffers with us and that our suffering has meaning with Him, and that death is not the final word, but that Jesus, the Eternal Word of God made flesh, is the first Word and the last Word, the beginning and the end, and that His life and love for us and with us is stronger than death. We will rise again with Him.
In becoming human, Jesus has invited us to live with God. We will still suffer, we will still die, but we will not do so alone. We will be with Him by His grace, and we will rise again with Him on the last day. God’s gift to us this Christmas is the same as at that very first Christmas. God gives Himself to us. We exchange gifts at Christmas to remind us of this greatest gift in human history. God gives Himself to us. And so the question we still face: Is God enough for us, is Jesus the One we’ve been longing for, or are we still looking for someone else, for something else, to try and fill us? Jesus still brings God to meet us in this Eucharist, Jesus who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. May we receive with joy the God who comes to save us, God who will stop at nothing to bring us back to Himself, and may we always desire at all times to live and die with Him.