Christmas: For This He Came
Merry Christmas to all! It is wonderful that you have come here to celebrate the birth of Our Lord. The Nativity Scene, the lights, the flowers, the music, all put us into the Christmas spirit. So many of you have special visitors with you at Mass, children or parents, brothers or sisters, all who have traveled here to celebrate Christmas. The warmth you feel in the Church spreads to your family and from your family to the rest of the Church. It is a wonderful cycle of love–faith to family and family to faith. You who have traveled to worship here are most welcome. There are also many present this evening from our area who may not be Catholic, but who want to pray on this holy night. You honor us with your presence. Thank you for coming. There may be some here who are Catholic but who don’t attend Church regularly. You cannot envision Christmas without coming to Mass. Thank you for being here. We are delighted that you are here. Please consider worshiping with us on a regular basis. We want you, and we need you.
We celebrate Christmas at the conclusion of a very difficult year. Election years are always difficult, but this one seemed to be particularly nasty not just in the lies that each side continually repeated, but in the open animosity of each candidate’s supporters towards the supporters of the rival candidate. Still, on November 7th, as half the country celebrated and half the country licked their wounds, we came together as one nation under God. It certainly appeared that the difficulties of the year were behind us. Our TV’s were now free of the vitriol. We could relax and enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas. And then the horrible events of ten days ago hit us. And we cried. And we are still crying. I, for one, have been reading the brief biographies of each child and adult and hurting, but
wanting to hurt. I want this event to make an impact upon me so that I can join forces with those who are seeking a change.
Perhaps some would say, "Father, I didn’t come here on Christmas to be reminded of these things, the election, the horrendous event of ten days ago. This is Christmas. I come to Church to get away from the negativity around me." I can understand that, and I appreciate that, but as long as the Church refuses to recognize the realities of life, the struggles that people are going through, and the need for change, in ourselves, in our country and in our world, as long as the Church ignores what is happening outside its doors, then religion is nothing more than a fantasy, detached from our lives. But when the Church confronts these issues, then faith can help us make some sense of life.
People ask, "So where is this Prince of Peace in our world?" or "How can you say the world has been transformed by the birth of Jesus Christ when so many in the world suffer horrors like those we just witnessed?" To this I can only say, "The terrible things that we have experienced are the very reason why Jesus came." The name Jesus means God Saves.
We need to take a step back from the sentimental side of Christmas and remember that Jesus came to free the world from the grip of sin. And make no mistake about it, it is sin that kills innocents, from the Holy Innocents killed by the jealous Herod to the innocents killed in Newtown, Connecticut. It is sin that says that the profits from selling assault weapons are more important than the possibility that these weapons might be used in an assault. It is sin that closes an eye to the struggles of the mentally ill, and it is sin that allows some of them to be a threat to others and to themselves. I read the brief biographies of the beautiful children and the courageous educators because I needed to be reminded of what sin does.
Jesus was born as one of us to free the world from the grip of sin. Behind the sentimentality of Christmas is the whole reason why he came. He came to perform an act of complete love for God and an act of pure, selfless love for us.
It is said that there was an old priest who would give the same Christmas homily every year. The homily consisted of only one sentence that he repeated over and over for twenty minutes. He would emphasize different words. He would cry. He would laugh. He would love. People would flock to the Church not just because it was Christmas, but to hear that homily, to hear the old Father repeat one sentence, over and over and over again. The sentence was this: The wood of the manger is the wood of the cross.
We can’t understand Christmas unless we understand Calvary. God gave dominion over the birds of the air and fish of the sea to Adam. Creation had been entrusted to mankind as a means of experiencing God. But mankind chose to use creation for his own selfish purpose. Adam sinned. Mankind sinned. Mankind disobeyed God and broke his relationship with God. As a result, the forces of evil took control of the world. Hatred became the way of life. Still, God would not take the dominion of creation from mankind. But mankind was powerless before the devil. Mankind was powerless before hate. A man would have to come who would not be powerless before evil or hate. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He became one of us. Jesus would free the world from the devil and the devastation of sin. He would be the new Adam, the new mankind, obedient to the Father, obedient to love.
He assures us that the war is being won, even as we experience evil in our lives. He calls us to join him in fighting evil. He calls us to join him in being obedient to God. He calls us to join him in love.
If we join him, when we join him, we will have peace. But this is a peace that surpasses all understanding as Paul writes in Philippians 4:7. It is a peace that knows that whatever crises the world throws at us, God is still there with us, loving us, holding us, helping us to remain loving in the face of hatred, to remain people of life in the face of death.
Death. Perhaps there will be an empty seat at the table as you share Christmas dinner tomorrow. Many wonderful loved ones have passed from this life to the next. The emptiness we feel is real, but what is also real is the knowledge that as we celebrate the wood of the manger, we know that the wood of the cross has given our loved ones eternal life. Donna and Linda, and Brent and Finula, and Robert and Sharon and so many others have gone, our own children have gone, Lisa and Bailee, Johnna and Carissa, Bryan and Joey, please add the names of your loved ones, so many of our loved ones have gone, but they are only gone from here, not from the Lord and his love. And knowing that they are in his loving embrace gives us peace. The peace that surpasses all understanding.
Many are persecuted for living their faith. Saints died for the faith. People in Asia, Africa and the area we used to call the Near East suffer for being Christians. We in the United States are mocked by the media for holding on to Jesus Christ. We don’t care. There is a peace in being with the Lord that is more powerful than anything that others can say about us or do to us. It is the peace of Christ, the peace that surpasses all understanding.
The world that greeted its Savior with a manger and a cross can change. It must change. But that change has to begin with us. We have to commit to the Lord and His way. We have to be people so united to Him that we will not allow the evil of the world to have any influence over us, no matter what it does to us.
The child in the manger looks up at the world and blesses it with His Presence. The man on the cross looks down on the world and blesses it with His Love. And we, people of Jesus Christ, Christians, look up from the manger with the Lord and see the beauty of the world the Father created for us, and we look down from the cross with the Lord and know that His love will conquer all.
This has been a difficult year with a horrible ending, but in times of joy and in times of sorrow, we are held upright by the One born in Bethlehem.
May the peace of Christ be with you.