Christmas Day Mass
Scripture Readings: Is. 52: 7-10; Heb. l: 1-6; Jn. l: 1-18.
The readings of our liturgy bring the beginnings of our past to us. They bring us to our beginnings. These are beginnings that escape our visualizations but which continue to support and sustain us in this moment. We are the beneficiaries of over four billion years of evolving cosmic generation. We are the beneficiaries of myriad life forms which contribute to the ecospehre and biosphere which support and sustain. us. We are the beneficaries of unknown persons and ancestors who have joined to create those human links which have resulted in our own lives. We are the beneficiaries and recipients of the generosity of infinite sources of love and sacrifice.
Christmas is a time when we allow that generosity to flow through our lives. It is a time when we dismantle the cautious parameters that are the evidence of good management. This is a time of excess: an excess of food, travel, gift-giving, and sharing. Our generosity is its own measure. It is not measured by the response it estimates as its due. It is not “justified” by meeting an obligation or by expectation of compensation. It springs from a desire to find happiness simply in giving. It cannot reallly explain itself. You didn’t have to do that. Precisely. The custom of sharing greetings and gifts is the way our spirit expresses its desire to support and sustain that invisible sphere in which we share in a communion of life and joy. Our sharing of gifts is like adding wood to a fire so that it continues to bring light and warmth. Our generosity feeds off that intangible mystery of communion that gives vital meaning to the acts in which it expresses itself. We do see his glory, the light and life which sustain and support our efforts to manifest the new life now present int he world.
Of course, generosity wants to be received, But it wants to be accepted for what it is: the gift of one’s self. How do you like it? is really asking if you have been touched by the self I have joined under cover of the gift. The giving of generosity opens a biosphere of freedom in which giver and beneficiary must both participate. To either extort a response or to dissimulate a reaction falsifies the exchange. The exchange is then left at a material level.
The birth of the Word of God in the flesh of our world is a manifestation of the generosity of God. The excess of his goodness has revealed itself in the incarnation of Jesus. The Word has gone out from the Father. Did God have to create the world? The same freedom through which he did not have to is the freedom of his generosity expressing himself in creation. He could not help himself. It is God’s nature to give himself. That is who he is. He cannot not be himself. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. That the Word who created all things should himself become enfleshed is ithe inconceivable idea that has now appeared as a fact among us. The generosity and kindness of God are manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. The form of his humility is the form of his accessiblity and availability to human history and human life. Everyone is the potential beneficiary of this generosity.
But the gift “contains’ the giver in a manner beyond our comprehension. God gives himself in his Word. In his generosity, his desire is to be accepted for who he is. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him, he gave the power to become children of God, to be born of God. His gift creates in us the ability to receive his gift and to give our selves to him in return. We are reborn in him whose life is to be generous and to love. We share in God’s divinity through Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity (Collect of the Day Mass). The humble form of our humanity is transformed into the instrument and sacrament of God’s sharing that life of selfless generosity with us.
Christmas Day Mass
Scripture Readings: Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18
Brothers and sisters, in our time one hears it stated as a general principle: “A person will not grow until they feel secure in a safe environment.” That seems to me rather difficult to square with our lived experience and with the testimony of scripture. In fact, most people in history have experienced life in this world as an unending cycle of poverty, famine, plague, and warfare.
A generation of Americans, growing up from the 50’s to the 70’s, experienced an interlude of peace, prosperity, security, and comfort, very unusual, almost unprecedented in history, with the result that we feel somehow entitled to a safe environment, and even imagine we have the power to do what Almighty God has not done – create for others a safe environment. The above principle sounds like something from modern psychology, but at least two much respected psychologists I know of are telling people this popular truism is not true. Imagining you are in a safe environment, it turns out, is not conducive to human growth, but tends to make a person more weak, fragile and frightened; a person who in our day is sometimes derided as a “snowflake”. This is a person who, precisely because they have been sheltered and protected are quite unprepared to deal with real life, in the company of real people. And a “snowflake” crying can sometimes devolve into the cry of a confirmed atheist: “That Infinite Liar! He told us we were safe!”
Brothers and sisters, in the event any of you here this morning imagines you are in a safe environment, I am concerned for you because I think it will be difficult for you to celebrate Christmas; I mean to enter into the mystery of what we are commemorating on this Solemnity of the Lord’s birth. To celebrate this mystery, you have to enter into and identify with the life of Jesus Christ, and the story of his life will upset you. But, one is not permitted, in a “safe space” to say things that upset people, which means I would not be able to relate to you the fact that before he was one year old, a local politician tried to kill Jesus and how, before he was 35, another local politician actually killed him and in the most ghastly manner you can imagine. In short, Jesus’ story makes clear what we kind of already knew: Life is not safe, mostly because people are not safe.
Think about it. At the very beginning of the bible, there are exactly two people inhabiting the earth living together in Paradise, a really safe environment. They did not flourish there, but foolishly opted out of that situation in preference for another where nobody is safe because everyone dies. Life, after the Garden of Eden, is not safe. You are not safe. The good news is that, acknowledging this truth, will dispose you to embrace and truly experience the miracle of Christmas Day, this day on which we celebrate the birth of God into our world. Accepting the reality of your situation you are liberated from the indifference and boredom characteristic of so many people in countries who enjoy affluence, security, and comfort; (places where the church is collapsing), and celebrate Christmas with the fervor of Catholics in Nigeria, one of the more dangerous places on the earth, where the church is very much alive and growing. Imagine what it must be like to celebrate Christmas in Nigeria where a visit to a shopping mall might get you killed by Boko Haram. How your heart would exult to hear proclaimed at Christmas time: When the night was mid-way through its course; and all were engulfed in darkness; and the whole world was frozen in the stillness of death, God’s Almighty and Merciful Word leaped down from heaven to share with us our human condition! This miracle marks the beginning of our real growth in faith and as human beings.
Embracing the truth that life in this world is not safe, we accept the truth that we ourselves are utterly incapable of creating for ourselves or anyone else a safe environment that God has not willed for us. Only our Savior the Lord, Jesus Christ, born of Mary can make us safe. Today we celebrate his birth. Brothers and sisters, rejoice! We are all going to a safe place. We, who believe, will be safe and we are going there together, back to Paradise and to Heaven where we will never be separated from God or each other ever again. This God has willed. Today, a child is given us; a Son is born to us, who is called Mighty Ruler, Wonder Counselor and Prince of Peace.
Christmas Day Mass
[Scripture Readings: Is 52:7-10, Heb 1:1-6, Jn 1:1-18]
On December 16, 1944, the German army began its last great offensive in World War II. The Battle of the Bulge took the allies by surprise. They were thrown back with great loss of life on both sides. The fighting intensified on Christmas Day as the German army pushed forward in desperation. Soldiers on both sides wanted to be home with their families. Guys who would never have hugged their fathers as teenagers now ached with longing to embrace their parents, sisters and brothers. Many of them would never have the chance. It was their last Christmas. Over 76,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of the Bulge.
That Christmas, in a small farm house close to the front lines, a Catholic chaplain, Fr. Francis Sampson of the 101st Airborne Division, anointed the soldiers who were dying. Among them there was a young German prisoner of war who was horribly injured. His intestines had been ripped open. An American GI with a serious injury lay on a stretcher a short distance across the room. The only available medic had folded a blanket under the American's head to comfort him, but later his head slipped off the blanket and he began groaning in pain. The German lad, seeing his agony, pushed himself on his back across the wooden floor to the American, and fixed the blanket under his head again. The German, hardly 18 years old, died an hour later. His act of kindness, his last Christmas gift, was like a bright light of love shining through the darkness of the war. He could not embrace his father and mother, but he could embrace his nearest neighbor with an act of love. And he did. In a better way, that young soldier went home for Christmas after all, to embrace his heavenly Father.
The hill of Calvary is only five miles from the cave at Bethlehem. In today's Eucharist we not only celebrate Christ's birth, but we also make present the sacrifice of Jesus who took on our wounded flesh and freely pushed himself along the wood of the cross to put the blanket of grace under our heads. After three hours of agony he died for love of us so that we could be with him in his Father's embrace. Then, we also will hear the Father say to each of us those wonderful words: “You are my child, today I have begotten you.”
Christmas Day Mass
[Scripture Readings: Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18]
In 1997 my mother told me she wanted to see a movie that was very popular that year. It was called “As Good As It Gets.” I took her to see it. It is about the developing relationship between a cranky, cynical, obsessive-compulsive man with really poor social skills named Melvin Udall (played by Jack Nicholson), and an attractive, single-parent waitress named Carol Connelly (played by Helen Hunt). In a dinner scene, Carol demands that sarcastic Melvin pay her a compliment. So he compliments her.
The thought he expresses in the compliment is the thought that the Christ child inspires in us today. It expresses our experience of life. Today’s gospel conveys it this way: “In Him was life and the life was the light of men” (vs. 4). The life of this Child became a light in which we see things; it became a way of perception. The gospel of John was written to elicit a response—an emotional response—from us. It is the story of people whose lives have been changed by the birth of this child; by their encounter with Jesus Christ. We, gathered here this morning, are those kinds of people.
We, like the shepherds, are gathered around this Child because we heard a call; we heard it with the “ears of the heart.” Melvin Udall’s compliment highlights the fact that all humans have an impulse toward perfection, toward acquiring or receiving a mysterious good that they sense is missing in them. Obtaining this good, will change their life for the better. It will complete them. We know this good is going to be obtained in a relationship. We know we lack it and we come to believe that through this relationship we can become…
The Melvin Udall character and the compliment he pays portrays vividly the fact that we humans are defective beings made for a perfection that is beyond us. The gospel tells us, “But to those who did accept Him He gave the power to become…” (vs.12). It tells us that, by entering into a relationship, we can become something we are not now. In that relationship we will receive a good we do not now have, but which we desire. A man’s vocation is realized when he finds the relationship that lets him “become…”
The compliment or thought the Melvin Udall expresses in the movie is the thought that a man has when he has found his vocation; when he has discovered the relationship in which he is to become the good which God has in mind for him. When this thought is directed to a woman, he knows his call is to marry her. When this thought occurs when he visits a monastic community, he knows he has found his brothers. This thought is the gift of the Christ Child; the reaction this gospel intends. It is how we know that the life has become the light of men. It was thought by every man here when he decided to enter New Melleray. The compliment, the thought is this: