Jesus enters our basements: A homily for Christmas

jesus-mary-josephThe other day I was invited to a Christmas party. I had been to this house several times before, so I thought I knew where I was going. I went to the neighborhood, pulled up to a house that looked exactly like the house I remembered, and parked among the many other cars there. I knocked on the door–nothing. Doorbell–nothing. So I waltzed right on in. The house looked pretty much right on, but no one was on the ground floor. But I could hear them all in the basement, so I started on down.  Upon getting to the bottom, I announced, “Merry Christmas everyone.” And I did not see a single familiar face.  Silence followed for a few seconds, at which time I said, “I’m beginning to think I’m in the wrong place.” To which someone said, “Yes you are.” Lots and lots of laughter ensued. It is not every day a priest walks into your house unexpected. Now these folks were nice as could be and I even stayed for a beer and some food!  Had a great time.

I got to thinking. That’s like our Lord.  Today we celebrate a moment that changed everything.  To quote Msgr. Pope, Christmas is less candy canes and decorations and more D-Day.  The incarnation of Jesus changed it all. He came to earth as man to accomplish what only God could accomplish and to pay a debt that only man owed.  That’s St. Anselm. What he did in Bethlehem, by God, that changed it all–not just the lot of those folks then and there at Bethlehem, but forever and all around the world.

What I mean is this. It’s one thing to celebrate what we celebrate at Christmas, that God became man 2000 some years ago in Bethlehem. That is true and worthy of grand celebration and reflection. After all, as the preface for Mass says today, because of God’s incarnation we are made eternal. But it is also true that God is born to us here and now, today. This is true in a special way with the Mass. As surely as Jesus lay in the manger, he will also lie on this altar and on altars like it around the world and through the centuries.

And he is born into our lives. He enters our houses, unannounced, just like I entered that house unannounced and uninvited. And here’s the thing: even though sometimes we try to lock him out like the innkeeper, he will enter. He will be born.  And it should change everything that God is in the room with us, that God is born among us, that God is with us. We ought to live differently knowing that God is here.  He is Emmanuel, God with us.

Two questions I will leave you with.  It is true that God is Emmanuel, God-with-us.  God is with us. Are we with him?

And where do you need God to be born the most in your life? Perhaps a troubled relationship. Perhaps a bad feeling you are carrying towards someone that consumes you. Perhaps you need God to be born in a dark place of your life, or into that secret life you have that you think no one knows about. Perhaps you need God to be born into your marriage, your life with some friend. We all need Jesus to be born in our lives. We celebrate that today, he is born in all those places. Let us look for him there and draw power from him there.

He is born, and in response to that we echo the angels and the shepherds in proclaiming, Glory to God in the highest!

Victory

Down to that littleness, down to all that
Crying and hunger, all that tiny flesh
And flickering spirit – down the great stars fall,
Here the great kings bow.
Here the farmer sees his fragile lambs,
Here the wise man throws his books away.
This manger is the universe’s cradle,
This singing mother has the words of truth.
Here the ox and ass and sparrow stop,
Here the hopeless man breaks into trust.
God, you have made a victory for the lost.
Give us this daily Bread, this little Host.
Elizabeth Jennings
Victory

The call of the Magi to become wise men

“Exactly what ‘Magi’ are is debated. Perhaps they are learned men, perhaps they are ancient astronomers. We often think of them as kings though the text does not call them that. It also seems Herod would have been far more anxious had they been actual potentates from an Eastern Kingdom. In our imagination we often think of them as Kings since Psalm 72, read in today’s Mass, speaks of ‘kings’ coming from the East bearing gifts of gold and frankincense. However, for the record, the text in today’s gospel does not call them kings, but ‘magi.’

“Yet, here is their key identity: they are Gentiles, and they have been called. Up to this point in the Christmas story, only Jews had found their way to Bethlehem. But now the Gentiles come. This detail cannot be overlooked, for it is clear that the gospel is going out to all the world.

“St. Paul rejoices in this fact in today’s second reading as he says: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph 3:6). Most of us are not Jewish by ancestry, and hence we ought to rejoice for in the call of these Magi is prefigured our call.

“And notice that God calls them through something in the natural world. In this case a star. God uses something in creation to call out to them.

“We do well to wonder what is the star that God used to call us? Perhaps it was Scripture, but more usually, it is first someone God has used to reach us, a parent, a family member, a friend, a priest, religious sister, or devoted lay person. Who are the stars in your life by whom God called you?

“God can also use inanimate creation like he did for these Magi. Perhaps it was a beautiful Church, a painting or a song. By someone or something God calls. He puts a star in our sky. These wise men, these Magi, follow the call of God and begin their journey to Jesus.”

Msgr. Charles Pope
From Magi to Wise Men –
A Homily For Epiphany
5 January 2014
Full text

As with gladness, men of old

As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesu, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

William C. Dix
“As with gladness, men of old”
1860

Despite imperfect preparations, He comes

Guido Reni, The Adoration of the Shepherds

The seminary’s former vice rector, Fr. Godfrey Mullen, OSB, recaps his Christmas homily:

Christmas homily in brief: Christmas preparations are never quite perfect. In the imperfection of a dirty stable, the Almighty takes flesh for our salvation. Shall we welcome him into the imperfection of our lives? It’s where He’s born. Merry Christmas to all! The eternal peace of Christ be yours!

Sounds like a good homily.  It’s easy to see in Reni’s picture above and in most pictures of His birth.

No one in the picture above was quite ready, but he came anyway.

Same today.

Good thing….since none of us can ever really be ready for such an incredible thing as this.

Pope Benedict: "What would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door?"

Some words from our Holy Father from Mass last night:

It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me. 

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them?

The pope also discussed the need we have for peace and an end to war, praying that “peace would spring up for the people of Syria” and other places, too.

The child who comes to us peacefully in an out of the way manger wishes to bring that peace about.

Perhaps only he can.

Would that we didn’t fight it.