It’s taken me a week to get around to posting my homily from Christmas 2011. It’s been a busy week, not like I planned. Funerals have a way of changing your plans. Anyway…here’s essentially what I preached for the Solemnity at all three Masses. Since the readings for each Eucharist on Christmas (Vigil, Mass during the night, Mass at Dawn and Mass during the day) are different, I try to find a way to preach that will work with any of the sets of readings. This year, it seems that my proclamation could have been inspired by the opening collect of the Mass during the day, that is, if I’d looked at it before I wrote the homily. 🙂 By the way, it is permissible and desirable, according to the General Instruction of the Mass to preach using the prayer texts of the Mass as the source of the homily, which I occasionally do. Here’s the text of the prayer I refer to…
O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature
and still more wonderfully resorted it,
grant, we pray,
that we may share in the divinity of Christ,
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(Opening Collect, At the Mass during the Day of Christmas, Roman Rite, 2011 Roman Missal)
This is the text of the homily
If it were possible to transport a person from biblical times to the 21st century can you imagine that person’s reaction to our existence. They would not be able to comprehend what they see. That person would have no words or language to begin to understand what we take for granted. Planes that travel huge distances in the air! Devices we hold in our hands to talk to people far away and take pictures! The sounds coming out of our mouths would sound like gibberish, since language evolves over centuries! Have you ever tried to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the original medieval English? To be able to understand what is taking place, to make sense of reality, humans need a language and people need experiences they can relate to. Things outside our experience make no sense until we humans can filter what we’re experiencing through familiar words, concepts and symbols.
Yet, no mater what the century, no matter what the place, certain human experiences seem to be interpreted in pretty much the same way. Such is the birth of a child. A baby evokes responses of love. A baby’s birth stirs the hearts of all who witness it as something sacred. A child’s birth is a sign of life persisting even in a world filled with death.
You and I are unable to comprehend God, what God is like, what it is like to be eternal. The divine being is beyond our human understanding. It is alien to us. To know God as God is in eternity is impossible for humans. Yet, God desires to be known, to be in relationship with someone outside of himself. That is his nature scripture and faith tell us. To know God, you and I need a way of relating to this reality, of comprehending that which is beyond our senses. If God wants to be known, God needs to use a human language. God needs to make God’s-self known in a context that you and I can interpret. Otherwise it’s like being plopped down in an alien world with no reference points.
This revelation of God in a manner comprehensible to human beings, in a definitive statement humans can understand is what Christmas is all about. God loves us, God invites us into his life. God wants his creation, the children brought for by his love who suffer so much because of human selfishness to live in the perfect life of God, forever.
Jesus Christ is God revealed in human mode. The child in a lowly manger we contemplate on this feast is the love and mercy of God in a form we can comprehend. How profound! A human child, begun in the normal course of human existence growing 9 months in the womb of a woman is the face of God, unconditional love, like a baby has for it’s parents, looking back at humanity who looks into God’s face through the eyes of Mary and Joseph, shepherds and magi. And humanity gets it! This is God’s way of telling us life endures, that there is hope for the future. A child shall lead them (as Isaiah the prophet once said) to a new way of living.
If we’re honest we need a savior, someone not from this earth (not made of the dirt of earth like Adam, the first man, as the story goes). Humanity is broken. There is disease. There is poverty. There is war and killing in fear and jealousy of people not like us. Humanity, no matter how hard it tries can not seem to solve, ultimately, the problems we create for ourselves. Yet if God just popped in and snapped his fingers (if God has them!) to make everything right, humanity wouldn’t really know God or the love God has for creation. We’d miss the message, because it was beyond our ability to comprehend what we experienced. God needed to become human. In order for us to get the message, God had to take flesh, to grow-up into an adult man who suffers and dies. Only then would the reality of God’s love be comprehended by humanity.
And here’s the neat part of the truth we celebrate tonight/today! Because God was flesh in Jesus, all flesh, every human is able to enter into the perfection of life that God enjoys! It’s the only way God could save us from ourselves. The one beyond all understanding, perfect being had to take on human flesh like ours so that humanity would be raised. Because of Christmas humanity can be changed and raised incorruptible. Without Jesus, humanity would never have really comprehended who God is.
Christ continues to take flesh, to use human signs and actions to reveal the Father’s love to a hurting world. Christ continues to reveal God’s love and desire to bring humanity with him to experience a fuller life that is not limited by pain and death. Christ no longer lies in a wooden manger. He no longer hangs from a wooden cross. He lives in the human form of the church. You and I are his hands and mouth for we were made part of Jesus in Baptism. In the body of Mother Church, so to speak, Jesus continues to take flesh. Let us rededicate ourselves this feast of the incarnation to tell the love of God for humanity in ways they can understand. Let us comfort the poor, work for peace between waring people. Let us care for the sick. Then and only then, through the church’s cooperation in the work of Christ, will the world recognize that God dwells with his people leading them to the fullness of life.
© 2011, Rev. Joseph C. Rascher
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks
Lord, holy Father, Almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.
For through him the holy exchange that restores our life
has shone forth today in splendor:
when our frailty is assumed by your Word
not only does human mortality receive unending honor
but by this wondrous union we, too, are made eternal…
(Preface III of the Nativity of the Lord, Roman Rite, Missal of 2011)