Christmas 2016

     Tonight, as we gather to celebrate the birth of a seemingly unknown child, born over 2000 years ago to poor parents in a stable in the insignificant city of Bethlehem, I can’t help but ask myself what is it about this child that has captivated so many hearts for over 2000 years. Regardless of where we find ourselves, we seem to pause year after year to come and adore this little child in the manger. Whether we find ourselves close to God or we have not stepped foot in a Church all year; whether we have had a successful and joyful year or a great tragedy has struck in our lives, there is something magical about Christmas that enables us to put everything behind us for one night to come and adore the baby Jesus.

     The magic of Christmas is that it reminds us that in the midst of darkness God does not stand far off. “God is no longer separated from us by the iron curtain of His inaccessible other worldliness; He has crossed the dividing line to become one of us.”[1] “For Christmas says to us, amid all our doubts and bewilderment: God exists … as one who is able to be concerned about us; He is such that everything we are and do lies open to His gaze. But that gaze is the gaze of love.”[2] Christmas reminds us that God is not some power in the sky who created the world and forgot about us, or some power in the sky who controls us like a master puppeteer. No, He became man and walked this earth living in a specific time and place to bring us from slavery to freedom.

     Tonight we celebrate that turning point in history because the angels proclaim, a Savior is born for us, who is Christ the Lord. That’s the story that our Catholic Church has been passing down uninterrupted for 2,000 years from those who witnessed it all first hand, to the earliest martyrs, to the great saints, to all the baptized. And we here today, to tell it yet again. It is this story, which is the reason for our Church, for our being here. The story of God, the Almighty Creator of all things, the Supreme Being – taking to Himself the nature of one of His lowly creatures: becoming man. It’s a story which any reasonable person could easily recognize as simply too incredible to be true. Yet as people of faith we know that what we celebrate tonight isn’t just another story, some myth, or fairy tale, but truly history. – Salvation history.

     As people of faith we know that God truly did become man and that great event which we celebrate tonight looks forward to an even greater feast; the Feast of His Resurrection on Easter. For God became man not only to teach us and to inspire us, but primarily to save us. He was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was born in the manger of Bethlehem, to die for us and in dying to destroy Satan’s age-old grip of sin, so that in rising He might empower us to truly live as He created us to live. While all of us were born to live, Jesus is the one person in human history who was born to die. His birth proves once and for all that despite any of the darkness and despair in our lives, light trumps darkness and ultimately His goodness will be victorious. This saving story begun on Christmas is not just a story of history no that story traces right down to our own day. The birth of Jesus changes our lives completely for He comes to embrace us and He invites each of us to embrace Him.

     Tonight as we gather before the manger Jesus gazes on us and we gaze on Him. As that child gazes on us, He sees a reflection of His own image and wills to save each and every one of us. He begs each and every one of us not only to believe in Him, but truly to follow Him, who is “the way and the truth and the life,”[3] through whatever joys or troubles life may give us. Friends, Jesus is always waiting for us to encounter Him, if only we are willing to take the risk to take a step towards Him. “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize He is already there waiting for us with open arms.”[4]

     So tonight, are you willing to take that risk and take a step towards this innocent child lying in the manger, who became one of us so that we could become like Him. My friends when we have a personal encounter with the Lord in the Nativity scene our lives can never be the same. Our “faith is joy, therefore it makes beauty.”[5] “Our faith, too begins with wonder at the very fact of creation and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.”[6]

     Ultimately each of us is the innkeeper of our own hearts and tonight Jesus knocks at our hearts and begs to be born anew in our hearts. Will we be like the innkeeper of Bethlehem and cast Him out into the dark cold night, or will we open the inn of our hearts to Him and allow even the darkest areas of our heart to be transformed by the power of His love? Tonight then, Jesus gazes on us and we gaze on Him. His gaze invites us to set out on a lifelong path of rediscovering Him, of starting anew in our relationship with Him. Come then, let us behold Him, let us come and find Him in the manger, be transformed and then leave and like the shepherds on Christmas night depart and spread the message of Christ’s coming into our hearts and indeed the whole world.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg. 333.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,  Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg. 338.

[3] Jn 14:6

[4] Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium. Washington DC: USCCB. (2014). pg. 1.

[5] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (2010) pg. 31.

[6] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (2010) pg. 103.

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