Christmas Midnight Mass
Scripture Readings: Is 9:1-6; Tit 2;11-14; Lk 2:1-14.
Most of us at some time have had the experience of being happily overwhelmed by an experience: meeting someone, being given an award, being offered a position. It’s too good to be true is the sense that surged up in us. It was more than we could have hoped for. It exceeded our wildest imaginings.
Not many of those experiences lasted. Flaws and disappointments crept in and all did not remain as it had first seemed. What appeared to be a fresh beginning eventually became routine or problematic. Now when things come along that are too good to be true, we became more skeptical and withheld our commitment.
The angel’s proclamation of good news of great joy for all the people might also seem to be too good to be true. Isaiah’s promise of the end of violence and war, the liberation of the oppressed doesn’t seem to have found noticeable fulfillment through the centuries. Too good to be true. The truth of observable reality seems to demythologize these visions and dreams. They don’t seem to have much impact on life as it is lived.
The angel didn’t make this proclamation to the innkeepers or the census takers. They would have dismissed it out of hand. The proclamation was made to one of the lowest social rungs, shepherds, who were sitting in the night to protect their property from danger and theft. The night is a dangerous time when it is difficult to discern and distinguish the shapes and movements in our environment. Their job and role formed them to habits of attention and readiness for surprises. They were open and in open spaces.
The shepherds were struck with fear. The appearance of the angel opened to them the presence of an overwhelming power which penetrated to the inner core of their awareness, even as it made them defenseless. At some point, the crust of habituation and the shell of normalcy must be broken through for our inner self to be addressed. The knowledge that we have “accumulated” in life can immobilize us. We stick with the true that we have known. We need to be thoroughly convinced before we will enter another world of possibility. And this makes it almost impossible to enter a world of joy or accept the good news of joy for all the people. Entering into joy means discovering an inner contentment and peace through finding ourselves in others. It is an effect of having loved and stepped out of ourselves for the sake of others.
The proclamation of the birth of Christ is too good to be true. It is the goodness of God which demythologizes what we cling to as true. “The world is really ruled by the forces of power, by the security of wealth and possessions, by the pursuit of self-concern and stimulation.” The goodness of God simply doesn’t square with this myth. God is too good to be confined by the limits of our “truth.” He is too good to be true. The incarnation of the Word is too good to be true.
The grace of God has appeared (Titus 2:ll), and further in Titus it says When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared. This is the God revealed in Jesus Christ, a God of unspeakable tenderness. Pope Francis has called for a revolution of tenderness. Is this the God we know and are called to embody in our lives? Francis calls this tenderness the first step in overcoming withdrawal into oneself and leaving behind the self-centeredness that disfigures human freedom. The grace and gift of Christ is the appearance of God’s love and goodness touching our flesh, our emotions, and our affections. It is too good to be true. To accept the gift and enter into its joy is to become like the Giver, our transformation into divine life.
The image of true human freedom is given to us in the scene of the infant in the manger. Rather than the power which needs to take inventory of its assets by an enforced census, we see the infant (one who does not speak), the innocent (one who does not harm), the one who is peace. Rather than one who is known by his possessions and property, who guards against theft and loss, we see one who is in abject poverty and lying in the feed trough of animals. Rather than one who is committed to the pursuit of pleasure, stimulation and self-gratification, we see one who is wrapped in swaddling clothes: dependent on the help of others, vulnerable to the imperatives of nature and society but a free sharer and participant in the world of limitations and interdependence. The goodness of God has appeared in forms which reveal the true image of humanity.