Sunday, December 31, 2017

Homily for the Sunday after Christmas (12/31/17)

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

“Flee to Egypt.” With those words echoing in his ears Joseph got up, took Jesus and Mary by night and went to Egypt. Regardless of whether this story really happened the way Matthew tells it, it is not hard to know that it is true. The names and faces might change but it is a story that continues to be lived in lands throughout the world today. We have seen the pictures. We have read the news. We have heard and maybe even participated in the arguments over what to do about this situation. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not the first refugees and they are not the last.

What do you hear in today’s Gospel, the flight to Egypt? What feelings does it evoke? What images fill your mind’s eye? What prayers arise within you? What experiences does it recall from your life? What does it have to do with you and me?

I picture a little boy and his mom and dad. Violence, a tyrant ruler, an oppressive government, and the threat of death have them on the run. They have left behind more than what they have taken. I feel the parents’ fear and the knot in their stomachs. I am certain their one thought, their only priority is to protect the child and keep him safe. I see them feeling their way through the darkness of night hoping not to be noticed. With each passing moment, they are a bit further from the known and familiar, and bit closer to the unknown and unfamiliar. I hear their whispered questions. When will we get there? How much further is it? What will we find? What will it be like?

I am not talking about only Jesus and the Holy Family, I am also talking about the thousands upon thousands of people who have had to flee and are fleeing from their homelands because of persecution, tyrannical rulers, oppressive governments, and wars. One child arrived safely in Egypt. Other children, together with their parents, have drowned and washed up on beaches. Others were turned back from safety because nobody wanted them because they were different. All were refugees and they shared a common story.

I cannot explain why one child found refuge and the others do not. There are no good or acceptable reasons for that, but I can tell you what are not the reasons. It is not because Jesus’ life mattered more, was more important, or more valuable than other children. It is not because God loves Jesus more than His other sons and daughters. It is not because Jesus is God’s Eternal Son and the other children were just normal human beings. If we think it is any one of those things, we have missed the point of Christmas. We have denied that the Word became flesh; human flesh, flesh like yours, like mine, like your children’s. We have forgotten the prayer that reminds us that in Jesus, God shares our humanity so that we might share His divinity. If that prayer means anything at all it means that the depth and measure of God’s joy and thanksgiving that Jesus arrived in Egypt is equaled only by the depth and measure of God’s anger and sorrow that those children and families who sought and who seek safety did not reach their Egypt.

God’s heart is with the refugee. In the birth of Jesus, in the angel of the Lord who spoke to Joseph in a dream, and in the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, God has revealed Himself to be aligned with the refugees of this world, not only with those from oppressed and war-torn countries, but with you and me as well.

And if it sounds like I just named us as refugees you heard right. Jesus, that little boy who fled to Egypt with His mother and father, and all of those children, with their families, who have sought safety and peace are the faces of a refugee humanity, a humanity you and I share with them.

In today’s refugee faces we see a modern-day retelling of the flight to Egypt, and in Jesus’ face, we see the spark that ignites hope, kindles the fire of love and illumines the darkness for all refugees. Their stories confront us with our own refugee status and bring to mind the times we have fled to Egypt. Some of you may be on that road now.

If your life has ever been disrupted and you needed a safe place to get away to; if you have ever known it was no longer safe or good for you to stay where you were or to stay the way you were; if you have ever left the known and familiar and traveled in darkness to the unknown and unfamiliar; if you have ever realized your life was at risk and you had to make a change; if your survival depended on crossing borders into a new and foreign land; if you have ever experienced these or a thousand other things like them, then you know what it is like to be a refugee. And my guess is that we all know what that is like.

We may not have had the same experience as Jesus and the Holy Family or the thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq, or Iran, but we share a common story and a common status. Herod is not just a king in Israel some two thousand years ago. In every age, Herod is the power, circumstances, and abuses that disrupt and seek to destroy life. Herod is that one who creates refugees. For every refugee, there is a Herod, and there are all sorts of refugees and all kinds of Herods.

You see, being a refugee is not only about tyrant kings, oppressive governments, and threats of death. It is also about a deep longing and drive for a new life and a new place in life. It is hearing and responding to the nighttime calling of God. The refugee life is neither easy nor safe, but we never go alone. We go with the God of refugees, the God who “has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:19-20). We go with the promise that our Egypt has already been sanctified and prepared by the presence of “this Child who is our spark.” This child knows the way. And this Child is Jesus, the Christ, the Expected and Anointed One.

Some of us are refugees from a marriage or relationship that was unhealthy, destructive, or violent. Some are refugees from the land of addiction. Some are refugees wandering through the darkness of depression, emptiness, or a life seemingly void of meaning. Some are fleeing the countries of neglect or abuse. Many of us have recognized behaviors and choices that we had to flee or situations we just had to get away from. Most of us have probably been refugees from the land of grief and sorrow.

I do not know what your refugee story is, but I will bet you have one. I will bet you have had at least one time in your life when you had to get to Egypt. Your life depended on it. You left home for a better place, a different life, a new way; and you left not really knowing where you were going or what you would find when you got there. You trusted the Child to show you the way. You followed in the footsteps of the Holy Family and with each step of the way your life was the retelling of today’s gospel.

Every time I hear today’s gospel, every time I read about refugees in today’s news, every time I reflect on my own refugee status and my times in Egypt, I cannot help but wonder what if. What if Egypt had closed the borders of its heart? What if the Holy Family had arrived only to find a big wall and locked doors? What if the wannabe Pharaohs had unleashed on them the dogs of fear and prejudice? What if the Egyptian people had said, “There’s no room for you here?” What story would we be telling today? Would there be any good news for the refugees of the world? For you? For me? Would the spark have been extinguished?

But none of that happened. Perhaps Egypt remembered. Perhaps Egypt remembered another time, another Joseph, another refugee people. Perhaps God sent the Holy Family to a land that would remember. Perhaps God was hoping and counting on Egypt to remember it had once been a place of refuge for His people, and it could be again. Oh, that we too might remember; that we too might remember the Holy Family, the refugees in the news, and our own flights to Egypt. Oh, that we might remember it all.


Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family (12/30/17)

Christ is born! Glorify Him! 

“The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you’” (Matt 2: 13).

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, the family composed of Jesus, His Mother Mary, and Mary’s husband Joseph.

The Gospels are the story of Jesus of Nazareth, you know that already, of course:  the story of His teaching and His work of redemption.  But they have their cast of supporting characters.  In the first and second chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we meet an angel, a virgin mother, a wicked king (Herod), and three Magi or wise men (they were not kings).  But the chief supporting character is St. Joseph.

In today’s Gospel reading, we find the child’s life is in danger.  King Herod is so afraid of any challenge to his power that between 7 and 4 B.C. he executed three of his own sons and his favorite wife out of fear that they were plotting against him.  When the Magi tell him that there is a newborn king of Israel, Herod plots to destroy this perceived threat to his power.  The verses we skip over in our Gospel this morning, verses 16-18, were part of our Gospel reading yesterday on the feast of the Holy Innocents; they describe the massacre of the male infants of Bethlehem as Herod “searches for the child to destroy Him” (2:13).

St. Joseph, we know from what Matthew told us earlier, as well as from St. Luke’s Gospel, is not the child’s biological father.  We call him Jesus’ foster father.  He assumes the role of protector of Jesus and of Jesus’ mother, and we see him carrying out that responsibility today.  He serves as a model for all fathers: biological fathers, adoptive fathers, foster fathers, even spiritual fathers.  In fact, he is a model for all mothers too.

He is a model, first, because he seeks to do God’s will in everything.  In Chapter 1, Matthew describes him as “a just man” or “a righteous man” (depending on your translation).  That means Joseph tries in all things to obey the Torah, the Law that God gave to Moses, which is a law that covers not only morality but also worship and practical, everyday life.

He is a model, secondly, because once he understands what God wants, he obeys immediately.  We see that today in his obedience to the angel’s message in his dream: “Take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt.”  He gets up and departs that very night.  

We do not know how soon Herod’s soldiers arrived in Bethlehem to do their brutal murders, but Bethlehem is only about six miles from Jerusalem.  And the road to Egypt is a long one, which the Holy Family would have been traveling on foot, or by donkey at best.  Haste is important for saving the life of our Savior, and Joseph acts quickly.  

Earlier, the angel had told him to take Mary as his wife despite her pregnancy, “for the Child was begotten by the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20), and “when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him” (Matthew 1:24).  Later, the angel tells him not to resettle in Bethlehem, or anywhere in Judea, so he changes his original plan and takes the family to Galilee, to the town of Nazareth (Matthew 2:22-23), which must have been disruptive, even disappointing, but necessary for the Child’s protection.

He is a model, third, because he acts without discussion, argument, or questions.  In fact, Joseph never says a word in the Gospels.  In fact, in Sicilian tradition, he is known as “Joseph the Silent.”  This trait is related to his obedience.  Many times, people will do the right thing only after they have tried everything else first and found that their bad choices did not really help them, or they have argued with their parents, their supervisors, or their counselors (of whatever sort, including spiritual) and found their own arguments weak or self-serving, and only then do they reluctantly go along with those advising or instructing them.  

Imagine your son or daughter when told to clean a bedroom.  Joseph does not try to tell God (or the angel), “Do I have to?  But I told the guys I’d meet them,” much less, “This is crazy!  How am I supposed to believe this?”  Not a word; just action.  Perhaps silence was an important part of Joseph’s spirituality.  Perhaps it was silence that left him truly open to hearing what God was telling him:  the silence of prayer, the silence of reflection.  We all need more silence in our lives: less electronic distraction, less gossipy conversation, more room for God’s angel to speak to us.

Let us also note this about what St. Matthew tells us today:  as he does elsewhere in his Gospel, he brings out how this or that action “fulfills the prophets” (Matthew 2:15,23).  Matthew is seeing this by looking back at what happened and matching events against the Scriptures.  We would not say that Joseph consulted the Scriptures in advance.  But we would say there is a correlation between his choices, his actions, and the divine plan revealed in the Scriptures.  

The lesson for us in the 21st Century is to read, study, reflect on, pray over the Scriptures, the revealed Word of God, and try to discern what choices and what actions God would have us do, so that our lives may be in accord with His plan for us, so that, years from now, we might be able to look back and see how we fulfilled what He had mind.  Joseph’s obedience was the salvation of the Infant Jesus.  Our obedience to God’s Word is the key to our salvation.

The Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, are put before us by the Church this weekend as a model for our families. We call them “The Holy Family” but that does not mean that they did not have problems. Just as every family has to face and endure problems and overcome them, or to put it another way, has to carry a cross, so also The Holy Family had to carry crosses. Their many crosses come to mind as we read the Scriptures.

We can easily imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been when Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Their story would never be believed. Even Mary herself had it very rough early in the pregnancy when Joseph was planning to divorce her before the angel intervened in a dream. When the time for Jesus’ delivery came it took place in an animals’ shelter since Bethlehem was already so crowded. Then the Family had to flee to Egypt as refugees because Jesus’ life was in danger due to Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries are now entering many western countries.

Mary and Joseph suffered the awful experience of losing Jesus for three days when He was twelve years old and the only satisfaction they got from Him was that He had to be about His Father’s business.

After the family’s flight to Egypt and their return to Nazareth, we do not hear of Joseph anymore, so we presume that before Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee Joseph had died, the Holy Family suffering the greatest pain of all families, the pain of bereavement and separation through death.

Jesus’ public ministry must have taken its toll on Mary. Simeon had predicted in the Temple that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. We can imagine one such occasion, as we read in Mark 3:21 that when Jesus returned to Nazareth one day His relatives came to take Him by force, convinced that He was out of His mind. Not a very pleasant experience for any family, no matter how holy.

There was also the pain caused by the rhyme made up about Jesus: “Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

And there was the growing hostility to Jesus by the Jewish authorities that must have caused huge pain to both Mary and Jesus, especially as it became increasingly obvious that Jesus would have to pay for His mission by dying.

The saddest moment of all came when Mary watched Her Son die on the Cross. No parent should ever have to suffer the death of a child, especially in such violent circumstances. What parent expects their children to die before them? When a child dies, every parent understands and empathizes with the pain, sorrow, and grief that Mary experienced when she watched as her Son was nailed to and died upon the Cross in agony.

From the first moment that Mary is introduced to us she is presented as devoted to God; “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). When she visited her relative Elizabeth, Elizabeth described her as a woman of faith; “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled (Luke 1:45) and Our Lady responded with her beautiful hymn praising God that we call the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), “My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Twice during the early chapters of Luke, we are told that Our Lady was a reflective woman, pondering on the word of God: “Mary kept all these things pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, see also 2:51).

When Joseph is first introduced we are told by Matthew that he is a “just man.” (Matthew 1:19).

When the angel told Joseph in a dream not to divorce Mary and take her as his wife, Matthew tells us that as soon as he woke up he did what the angel commanded him (Matthew 1:24). He was a man of immediate obedience to the word of God.

These are just some of the many challenges we see the Holy Family facing as we read the Gospels. What helped the family through all these tests was their prayer and faith just as prayer and faith help our families through difficulties. In the Gospels, we also see the prayer and faith of the Holy Family. We see the entire family in prayer together as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years (Luke 2:41-52).

What kept the Holy Family together and sane throughout all these trials and crosses? The answer is ‘Love for each other and love for God’. Jesus’ love for Mary and Mary’s love for Jesus and the love they both had for God the Father was their rock and comfort. We see Jesus’ love for His mother when He was dying on the Cross and was worried about leaving her behind when He asked His close friend and disciple John to look after her, saying to Mary, ‘Woman behold your son’, and to John ‘behold your mother’ (John 19:26-27).

What holds families together also in times of difficulty is understanding and forgiveness. It is love which triumphs in the end, even if for a while love may have to take on a tough attitude and the form of some honest talking. When discipline needs to be given, if it is not given in love it is reduced to abuse. If ever our families fail in any way, it is because of a lack of love on someone’s part. Whenever our families are successful, it is because they are places of love, truth, and understanding.

I believe that the greatest threat facing families now is simply that we do not spend enough time together. We are so busy working or socializing or watching TV, or surfing the net, or texting on our cell phones that we have less and less time for each other. What a pity.

As I said, I believe one of the greatest threats facing families now is simply that we do not spend enough time together. Spending time together with the family is a way of showing our family that we love them. When we love our family, we want to sacrifice ourselves by spending time with them, and all the more so when we realize that by not spending time with them we are depriving them of our love and hurting them.

Families do not come about by accident. The family is part of God’s plan for us. God wants our families to be holy. The family is the basic unit of society and the Church; we could say the family is a little church. It is in the family that we first learn to communicate. It is in the family that we learn what love is. It is in the family that we first learn to forgive and to pray. It is in the family that we first learn about God and Jesus and Our Lady. It is in the family that first, we learn our values and what is good and bad. The future of humanity depends on the family because it is through families that society continues.

There are many attempts to destroy the family in our times but if the family will be destroyed in western society, the western world will crumble because all humanity comes from the family. There are many attempts today to redefine the family, but they do not reflect God’s plan for the family.

Apart from all the inspiration, we can draw from reflecting on the Holy Family, in other places Sacred Scripture tells us what God intends our families to be. In Matthew 19, Jesus says, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female…For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

In the letter to the Ephesians, there is beautiful teaching on marriage and family in chapter five. There we read again what Jesus said, “For this reason, a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesian 5:31).

But then there is a novel teaching in the letter as it says the love of husband and wife for one another is a reflection of the love of Christ for the Church (Ephesians 5:32). This is a great mystery, but one which is so beautiful and meaningful. The letter to the Ephesians says that if you want to know what a family should be like, just look at how Christ loves the Church. Christ gave His life in sacrifice on the Cross for the Church and that is how families are to be, loving each other to the end in a sacrificial way.

St. Paul goes on to give advice to husbands; they are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, handing himself over for her (Ephesians 5:25); in other words, husbands are to love their wives by giving up their lives for them, should that become necessary. The second piece of advice for husbands is similar, husbands are to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28).

The advice for wives to be subordinate to their husbands is unfortunately misunderstood; it is not saying the husband is master of his wife; no, not at all. The letter says as the Church is subordinate to Christ, wives to their husbands; in other words, as the Church becomes holy by being united with Christ, the husband’s relationship with his wife is to help her become holy. Husbands are to help their wives be holy.

When you read St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians properly, it becomes obvious that it is not at all saying husbands are masters over their wives because earlier in the chapter the letter said husbands and wives should submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21) and husbands are to love their wives to the end as Christ loved the Church.

All of this was obviously very radical teaching in its time and shows the depth of the Christian understanding of marriage and how God wants to elevate family life above society’s understanding of family to reflect the relationship and love of the Holy Trinity. It shows us, without any degree of doubt, that God Himself decreed what a family is to be

Sacred Scripture also gives advice for children. When a man asked Jesus what he should do, Jesus listed the commandments including the fourth commandment that children are to obey their parents, and said to him, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18-19). The letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:1) repeats the command that children honor their parents but also adds that fathers should not provoke their children to anger but bring them up under the Lord.

The family is not an accident. The family was not created by man, but by God Himself. The family is part of God’s plan. God wants your family to be the best it can possibly be and be the best place for the proper upbringing of children. God wants your family to be holy, as He Himself is holy.

The Holy Family faced many trials, challenges, and obstacles, as does every family, and they overcame them through prayer and faith. Our families also overcome challenges through prayer and faith, remaining united in love as did Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Let us pray during this Divine Liturgy that our families will conquer all difficulties through love for each other and faith in God and that they may emulate, in every way, the Holy Family of Nazareth.


Homily for the Feast of the Holy Innocents (12/29/17)

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Christmas is the most complex season of the Church year. It is the most complex feast on the Christian calendar. Just judging by the liturgical colors we use during the Christmas season, one can see that it is the least stable liturgical season of the year. If you include Advent, and for the purposes of this homily I will, if you include the colors of Advent, we have the purple of penitence, the white of innocence and purity, the green of hope, and the gold of kingship. And, the red, yes, the red of the blood of the martyrs. All of this transpires over a period of a few weeks. This is not the seemingly unrelenting white of the fifty days of Easter.

The Advent and Christmas seasons have a panoply of colors, and of experiences. Elizabeth, once barren, now conceives. Mary, unwed, yet betrothed to Joseph, also conceives. There is no complete and unreserved joy in that annunciation. In one gospel passage, John the Baptist leaps for joy and then, later on, he languishes in prison.

On Christmas day the whole world exults in joy over the birth of a child, then, typically, the next day we Christians remember the blood of the first martyr to die on behalf of our faith. On Christmas day, we remember a child born on a dark night pierced by a searing star, then only a few days later we remember the slaughter of a host of children, and we wear the color of the blood of martyrs too young to know why they died the vicious death they did.

Yes, Christmas is the most complex season on the Christian calendar. The real Christmas story is not only the PG-13 affair we see so often on Christmas cards and in crèches. But the real Christmas also has all the violence and darkness of an R-rated film.

Christ has not been born into a shake-up snow globe or a Christmas scene portrayed in a Currier and Ives painting. He has been born into this world of ours, full of darkness and complexity. Rather than the pastoral scenes of warmth and intimacy of the manger, we have a much darker reality unfold before us. We place the celebration of the Incarnation amidst a miasma of reds, purples, and blacks. It is as if to remind us exactly what sort of setting the world is for such an event as the Incarnation. It is a dark stage on which this drama first begins to unfold.

If there ever was a wormhole into paradise, then it is the destruction of the Holy Innocents as the hands of Herod. Feeling threatened by some unknown king to come, Herod cracks open the happy orb of Eden; as soon as the new Adam is born we have a new Cain in Herod who dashes the skulls of the innocents against the rocks of fear and distrust.

This is not the Christmas of fluffy sheep, kindly magi, and lowing cattle. The night of Christmas night is certainly silent but there in the silence is the still small scratching of evil at the doorstep. Silent night indeed. Christmas, it would seem, is a horror story worthy of Stephen King. It is no wonder then that the secularization of Christmas replaces such images and stories as these with Santa Claus and Rudolph. The Grinch is about as dark as the secular world is willing to go, and even the Grinch has a miraculous change of heart; his heart grows three sizes and then he is motivated to return all that he had stolen. No real lasting damage is done. What Herod stole, the lives of all those children in Judea, cannot be replaced, even had he experienced a change of heart.

What are we to do with the story of the Holy Innocents? We could just breeze through it, and most do just that since the story is only heard by those who attend Divine Liturgy. We could just disregard the whole event since it is an event from just one of the gospels. But to do so would be to miss one of the main themes of Matthew’s Gospel account of the birth of Christ. Evil exists in the world and it will stop at nothing to counteract the good, in the form of God, who so desperately wants to enter our world and make His dwelling with us.

Strangely and perhaps even paradoxically, one of the Christmas messages is about the nature of evil in our world. On the flipside, and this is the good news of Christmas, the good, in the form of God who lives among us is at one and the same time very fragile and very resilient. God comes into our world as an infant, a human infant. One of the most helpless of all God’s creatures. Resilient in that He survives His escape into Egypt, a place not known for its hospitality towards the children of Abraham.

As religious people, what do we take away from this complex situation? As companions of this fragile and resilient Jesus, what are we to do in the 21st Century where God still desperately desires to pitch His tent among us?

In one sense, the Holy Family offers a model for religious life in the 21st Century. Like Mary, we are to ponder all of this complexity in our hearts. Like Joseph, we are to father forth the good God who loves us. Mary notices everything and ponders all in her heart. Joseph shepherds the young family on what must have been a wild journey into the deserts of Egypt. Mary was no Pollyanna. Joseph was not a man ruled by his fears and anxieties, as was Herod. Our spiritual exercises teach us to contemplate the good alongside the bad. Our spiritual exercises also teach us to follow and pursue consolation, not a silly, postcard happiness but a freedom from anxiety, a freedom from upsetting doubts.

Soon, we will be on the road to Egypt with the Holy Family. A road that is more unknown than known, more dangerous than it is peaceable. To ignore this would be to ignore the Christmas message: evil exists and good is fragile and resilient. Thankfully, our fragility is made even more resilient in the food we are about to consume. This is not the milk and cookies left out for Santa, but the Body and Blood of our Savior.

I wonder if Jesus was remembering these children “when He called a child, whom He put among the disciples, and said,” ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea’” (Matthew 18:2-6).

It seems that the innocent and innocence are always in danger of being slaughtered by the tyrants of this world. Whether we call it Herod, Archelaus, fear, poverty, war, hunger, injustice, violence, addiction, despair, sorrow, death, indifference, or any one of a thousand other names we use to identify them, there is always a tyrant that seeks to destroy the divine life, a tyrant that wants to kill the holiness in this world, a tyrant that proclaims itself as ruler and denies God is with us. I suspect each of us can name times when our innocence was slaughtered and times when we slaughtered the innocence of another.

Yet, all is not lost or hopeless. Herod is not the only actor in this story. There are others who show us a different way. There is St. Joseph, spouse of Mary and guardian of Jesus. There are the Magi from the East. Herod destroys, Joseph protects, and the Wise Men adore.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents sets before us a harsh truth. “In the face of the Ultimate, one must either destroy or protect and adore” (adapted from Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, p. 91). Within that truth is a question each of us must answer.

It was not enough that Christ was born in Bethlehem in the cold winter. Those humble people:  ordinary shepherds, ordinary townsfolk who visited with him, and the Magi from outside the Jewish territory who angered Herod. Innocent children were slaughtered because Christ, the Light of the word was born.

Christ born at Christmas is the Light of the Gentiles. He is the source of life. He causes the rise and the fall of many. He is the sign of contradiction. And as a result, a sword would not only pass through Mary’s soul but through the hearts of many mothers and the lives of innocent children, by the reckless command of Herod.

Herod, a Roman appointee, the political king of the Jews, was not happy that the birth of Christ the real King had made such a noise in the community and in the neighborhood. He became jealous and threatened by the Kingship of Christ. Herod was not happy that the shepherds left their flocks to go and see the Newborn King.  He was not happy that Magi, who came from a foreign land, perhaps from Persia, went to visit with Jesus the long-awaited King of the Jews with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Magi, as we know, were led by a star. Usually, this comes with a significant event. And it does not happen every day. Magi do not come from the East every day looking for the King of the Jews in Judea.  Naturally, it was very disturbing to Herod, who felt threatened.

Herod quickly made up his mind to kill Jesus.  But, he had to cover up his evil plan by making a pretense to the Magi. But the mystery of the birth of Christ kept unfolding as planned by God. The Magi, after their visit with Christ, took another route home as directed by God. Joseph, too, was directed to rise and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. When Herod realized that the Magi had betrayed him, he became enraged and ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas thinking Jesus would be one of the victims.

Herod was nothing more than a pretender, a liar, a murderer, a bully, a jealous and power-hungry individual. He had no respect for children and their families. He cared very little about the sufferings and pains he inflicted on those mothers and fathers watching their two- years-old baby boys slaughtered in the broad daylight. What pain, what sorrow, and what horror Herod had created and inflicted on so many innocent people.

No one wants to experience emotional and physical pain and suffering, especially when it is caused by someone else. Suffering can come to us in a difficult co-worker, an argumentative friend, an abusive spouse or it can come to us in the form of illness, drug or alcohol addiction, unemployment, or financial difficulties.

Jealousy can also inflict pain and difficulties on family, friends, and neighbors. Injustices and all forms of violence, which still exist in our society today, can do the same.  Herod slaughtered the innocent children with a sword. What about those in positions of power and authority who have sexually abused and “slaughtered” the lives of vulnerable children?

Supposing you have a brother, sister or friend who does not see anything wrong with abortion or who challenges or ridicules your faith? What about wars that are not really called for? Victims of such violence are not usually military combatants but innocent civilians, including women and children.

What Faith does for us is that it enables us to see suffering with the eyes of Christ. Because of Christ, suffering takes on a new meaning when we see in the Light of the Cross of Christ and the hope of the Resurrection.

The Birth of Christ brings us hope. The birth of Christ sets us free. The sufferings of Bethlehem were temporary.  But the joy promised by the prophets was fulfilled in Christ at Christmas and will last forever. Our God can work through a disaster to blessings and from death to life.

We remember today those Holy Innocents whose lives were cut short by jealousy and hatred. Let us not forgot also that there are thousands of innocent children around the world murdered every day by abortion, starvation, and negligence. No, let us not forget them, but let us pray fervently for them, that God will welcome them into the light of His presence.  And let us pray fervently as well for those whose indifference, selfishness, and ignorance kill thousands of innocents every day. May the Light and Word of God, Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, convert their hearts, have mercy on them, and forgive them of their sins.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Christmas Day Liturgy Homily

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Six weeks ago, we began the Advent season looking at Christmas through the eyes of the world. Christmas Eve, we looked at Christmas through the eyes of Mary and Joseph. Today, we look at Christmas through the eyes of the shepherds and the Magi, or wise men.

Christ’s Nativity happened so long ago that sometimes it seems out of touch with our modern times. I once saw a “Dennis the Menace” cartoon where Dennis is saying to Joey: “People used to wish upon a falling star. . . I think that was before they had catalogs.” Today, Dennis would say, “That was before the Internet!” You can actually set up a “Wish List” on your Amazon account. Christmas was before we had a lot of things, but it brought the One thing that we needed more than anything else.

Christmas was such a long time ago that we have tended to idealize it, make it more glamorous and charming than it really was. Christmas was a real-life event, and it caused real-life problems as well as being wonderful. It was, and still is, the most important event in human history, and certainly the greatest and most wonderful thing God has ever done for the human family. But at the time, it was mysterious, and the events proved chaotic for those involved. Simeon accurately prophesied to Mary: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).

No one, including Joseph and Mary, fully realized what was happening. No one understood what it was really all about. It is not always easy to understand why God does things the way He does. The Lord said through Isaiah the prophet: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). The events of Christmas proved the truth of that scripture passage if nothing else does.

As a Christian, I do not always understand why God does the things He does, but I have learned to trust Him, even though His will for me may not always be easy or even make sense to me. Perhaps you wish God would do things differently in your life to make it easier, but His will, even though it may not always be easy, is always best. The test comes when we decide whether or not to believe that and act as though it were true.

I am sure if it were up to us to plan that first Christmas we would have done things quite differently. Let us take, for instance, the people God chose to tell about the coming birth of His Son. Think for a minute about how many people really knew that God was sending His Son into the world on that wonderful night. The greatest event in human history, and yet, out of all of the people in the world there were not a dozen people that were told about it, and they were very unimportant people according to the world’s standards.

Let us start by looking at the most obvious feature of the Nativity Narrative. Who does God announce the birth of His Son to? Who does He invite to come and see the new baby? A ragtag collection of sheep herders! There is only one announcement of Christ’s birth recorded in the Scriptures, only one invitation from God to anyone to come visit Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus. And that one invitation goes to a bunch of uneducated, smelly, low-class, social and religious outcasts, a bunch of shepherds.

Let me tell you a little more information about shepherds. According to Jewish religious law, these men were unclean. Their line of work prevented them from participating in the feasts and holy days that made up the Jewish religious calendar. Why? Well, somebody had to watch the sheep. When everyone else was making the trip to Jerusalem to make sacrifices at the temple, or to participate in one of the annual feasts, they were out in the fields, watching over the sheep. It was not really their fault. But they were looked down on, from a religious point of view. Whatever might have been in their hearts, they were not able to participate fully in the religious life of the community.

The shepherds were also considered borderline social outcasts. Since they were constantly on the move to find new pasture for their flocks, they were looked on with suspicion. They were often accused of being thieves. If something came up missing, it must have been those shepherds. They were not permitted to give testimony in a legal proceeding because their word was not considered trustworthy. And on top of all that, they really did not have much contact with other people. Most of the time, they were “living out in the fields.” Theirs’ was not a 40-hour a week job. They did not come home at night. They were with the sheep 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. During the day, they led the sheep to grass and water. They watched while the sheep grazed. They kept an eye out for predators like wolves. And at night, they actually slept in the sheep pen with the sheep to guard them against theft and animal attack. A good shepherd could identify each one of his sheep by sight. He knew his sheep and they knew him.

St. John the Evangelist says, “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:2-4).

Being a shepherd was lonely, wearisome, usually very boring and tedious, and sometimes extremely dangerous. It gave them a lot of contact with sheep, but very little exposure to people. No wonder that David in the Old Testament, the shepherd who became king of Israel, was such an accomplished musician. Many shepherds learned to play the flute or some other instrument because they had hours and hours with nothing to do but watch sheep eat grass. [Does that make you feel any better about your job?]. Shepherds just did not have much social contact. Put it this way, you probably would not want your daughter to marry one.

Imagine what it must have been like for the shepherds. They were sitting around a campfire on what must have seemed like any other night. Suddenly, the fire seemed to get unusually bright. The whole night went crazy, and as they looked up they saw an angel, a messenger from God. Then the sky was filled with all the heavenly host. Before the angel could say anything, he had to calm the shepherds down. “Fear not!”, he said for fear had gripped them. They were so afraid they could not move or speak. After the angel reassured them, he told them the most wonderful news that has ever fallen on human ears: the long-awaited Messiah, God’s own Son, had been born into the world that very night, not far from where they were tending sheep.

You know they must have had unbelievable emotions at that point. And then they saw the heavens open with an army of angels praising God with music and singing like they had never heard before. That must have been one of the most overwhelming experiences any human being has ever had. As soon as it was over, they went rushing to Bethlehem to see what the angels were talking about.

It must have surprised the shepherds that no one else was there. I wonder if they really expected to see the Messiah. They probably felt that there would surely be a crowd pressing around Him and that they might get to be a part of the crowd who were witnesses to such a great and awesome event. And even though the angel told them that the baby would be lying in a feed trough, it must have shocked them a bit to see the less than ideal surroundings for such an important birth.

And what about the Magi, those foreign astrologers, those philosophers, or wise men as they are called? After Jesus was born, Wise Men came to look for Him, probably from an area which is now either in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen. Although they are often called the Three Kings, Scripture does not say how many there were, or that they were even kings. One theory is that they might have been Kings of Yemen, as, during this time, the Kings of Yemen were Jews. Three is the traditional number because of the three gifts which they brought and laid before the Newborn Infant: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But however many there actually were of them, they probably would have had many more servants with them.

The Magi were definitely men of great learning. The word Magi comes from the Greek word ‘Magos’ (where the English word ‘magic’ comes from). Magos itself comes from the old Persian word ‘Magupati’. This was the title given to priests in a sect of the ancient Persian religions such as Zoroastrianism. Today, we would call them astrologers. Back then astronomy and astrology were part of the same studies and went hand-in-hand with each other. The Magi would have followed the patterns of the stars religiously. They would have also probably been very rich and held in high esteem in their own society and by people who were not from their country or of their religion.

So, we see on the one hand the shepherds: poor, uneducated, marginalized, and just barely getting by. On the other hand, we have the Magi: rich, intelligent, and held in high esteem. Both groups find their way to the stable and the manger where the Christ Child lay sleeping among animals.

What exactly then is the message that the story of the shepherds and the Magi conveys to us? Several possible answers have been proposed, such as the fact that Jesus Himself is later called the Good Shepherd, caring for us as His flock. But I prefer a simpler explanation. God wanted to show that His love does not discriminate on the basis of class, or wealth, or social standing. He does not respect kings and princes more than hourly laborers, He does not value bishops and priests above the people in the pews. God does not show favoritism; He does not give preferential treatment to one group of people over another. His love is available to all poor or rich, saints and sinners, fools and wise men.

In fact, many passages of Scripture indicate that God loves to lift up the lowly and humble, while at the same time bringing down the proud and self-satisfied:

“You save the humble, but Your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low” (2 Samuel 22:28).

“For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4).

“This is what the Lord says: . . . "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:1-2).

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

In other words, God demonstrated by the story of the shepherds and the Magi that Jesus was not going to be the Savior of only the political, social and religious elite. He was not going to be the Savior only of kings and governors, or popes and priests, but the Savior of all equally; He does not give preference to any group or any class. Nor does He discriminate on the basis of intelligence, or education, or wealth, or profession, or political power, or social standing, or any of the other qualities that human beings judge by. His love is offered indiscriminately to anyone who will repent and believe, anyone who will trust in Him as Savior.

St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, makes the same point: "Brethren, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things; and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God, that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, it is written, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord"' (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

In other words, God especially likes to use people who are humble and lowly and ordinary, because that makes His power and wisdom all the more evident. When He uses people who are obviously very gifted and powerful, then the results can be attributed to human effort and human talent. But if He uses people of obviously low to average abilities, then all the credit for the results go to Him.

So, what does all this mean for us? Well, if you identify with the shepherds, it should be very encouraging. Perhaps you see yourself as kind of on the outside looking in. I imagine that many nights, as the shepherds sat out in those cold, lonely fields, with nothing but dumb animals to keep them company, they looked over at the village, saw the lights of the homes, and heard the faint sound of families, people laughing, and wished they could be a part of that. Maybe you have felt that way too. Not one of the “beautiful people,” not especially wealthy or powerful or influential. Not likely to ever see your name in the paper for some great accomplishment. On the fringes socially.

Maybe, when you compare your level of religious observance to others, the comparison is not favorable. Spotty church attendance, little Bible reading, infrequent prayer. You think that if God is even aware you exist, He probably does not have a very favorable opinion of you. And you know what? A lot of people, deep down, secretly feel like that. Even people you would think of as “having it all together”. On the surface, everything is going great. But on the inside, they feel like you do not fit in. They feel like God does not really care about them.

If any of that description strikes a chord with you, then I have good news. Great news. The best news possible. God loves you. Just like He loved the shepherds. Just like He loved the Magi. You are special to Him. Just like those shepherds were special to Him, so special that He gave them the incredible privilege of being the first to hear of Christ’s birth, being the first people other than Joseph and Mary to lay eyes on the Son of God, being the first to tell others about Christ. He did not give those privileges to the Roman Caesar or to the Jewish high priest, He gave it to the shepherds; not in spite of who they were, but because of who they were: humble, ordinary people with no high opinions of themselves. Simple people who were willing to simply believe what God told them and to simply do what God commanded them.

When they heard the news, they did not seek out the religious professionals for a second opinion. They simply accepted what the angels told them. When they were invited to visit Bethlehem to see the newborn Messiah, they did not worry about who was going to watch their sheep. They did not get bogged down in debates about how they were going to find one small baby in such a large town. They simply obeyed and went.

But what if you do not identify with the shepherds? What if you identify with the Magi, the social and religious elite, the gifted, the accomplished, the powerful? Then recognize that in God’s sight, you are on the same level as everyone else. Do not fool yourselves into thinking that you have a head start with God. In fact, anything that causes you to think too highly of yourself; anything that stimulates pride, actually puts you farther behind. If that is the case, then ask God to purify your heart and grant you true humility. Understand that you are accepted before God on the same basis as everyone else: not because of anything you are, or anything you have done, but only because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who suffered and gave His life for your sins so that you could receive forgiveness and have eternal life. Humble yourself before God, so that He does not have to do it for you.

The story of the shepherds and the Magi is meant to show us that God does break into human history and into individual human lives. It may be that most of our days are common, but we need to expect those days when the uncommon happens, and we are face to face with God and what He is doing in the world. We need to dare to believe; to dream big, and believe God for the miraculous and supernatural. We need to live like we are walking in God’s mysterious presence where anything can happen. God is in the business of the unusual, just when the texture of life seems most ordinary. We need to live in the excitement of God’s plan that can interrupt our routine world and jettison us into a whole new dimension of existence and experience. That is how we are to approach every day of our lives.

God did not send an angel to give you the good news, but He did send me, and He did give you His word. God is inviting you today, just as He invited the shepherds and accepted their worship and adoration and that of the Magi, to receive His gift of love. Will you receive His love? Will you believe what He says and do what He asks? Will you acknowledge your need for forgiveness and put your trust in Jesus Christ for salvation? You do not need to be a genius or a member of the “in” crowd. You just need to believe and obey. Listen to Christ’s promise: “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

I pray you will make the decision to receive the Christmas Gift of Love into your hearts and lives. And please tell me about it when you do, so that I can help you with the next step of developing a relationship with Christ.

Finally, remember what the shepherds and Magi did in response to what they had seen and heard. They “spread the word.” Let you and I do the same, especially at this time of the year, for the sake of all the others who are still waiting to hear the Good News.

I wish you all a very blessed and Merry Christmas. Christ is born! Let us rejoice and be glad, for this is the day the Lord has made, and it is marvelous in our eyes!

Christ is born!

2017 Christmas Midnight Liturgy Homily

Christ is Born!

On this Holy Night, when Christ was born, we ponder the meaning of His unexpected arrival on earth. Jesus's arrival into our world marked a change; His birth is a watershed in human history. More than that, we believe that Jesus's birth is the most important event ever. His coming into our world, that is, Almighty God coming into our world as a weak, vulnerable and dependent child marks a departure from the way we think and tend to function. What does it all tell us about the way true and lasting change comes about? What does God convey to us about how true and lasting peace comes about?

From time immemorial, we humans have sought to bring about change through the use of force, domination, and whenever necessary, violence. Pax Romana was the rule of the day and firmly in place when Christ was born, the Hebrew people under the thumb and control of Emperor Caesar Augustus. The Pax Romana was an imposed and shaky peace based on keeping the people of lsrael in their place. The Pax Romana was an unstable peace reliant on creating victims and based on holding and maintaining power over and against others. The Pax Romana was a peace that could never last.

Then God entered this world with the announcement of something entirely new: an angel of the Lord came in the dark of night to marginalized shepherds struggling to make ends meet and of little account in the social order, and appeared to them as they were working in the fields, watching over their flock of sheep. The angel came to bring them good news of great joy! And the great joy they were entrusted with was for all people: 'To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, Christ the Lord. And, this will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." The question must be asked: What is the meaning of this "sign"?

The Child of Bethlehem represents a paradigm shift for the entire world, a paradigm shift in the nature of peace. The birth of Jesus as a baby in a manger of a stable, in an insignificant town far from home, to a peasant unwed mother from a captive people, contains a divine message for us tonight.

When the Prince of Peace is born, He does not come to rule as human powers expect. He does not exert His power through domination. He does not restore order through force. He does not change hearts through violence. Instead, He gently slips into our lives without imposing Himself upon mankind in any way. He entrusts Himself to us in weakness. He makes His way into our hearts through His poverty, dependence, and need. He brings down the mighty from their thrones through His quiet, humble birth.

The Infant King is not in rivalry with anyone anywhere. He is the embodiment of the work of the Holy Spirit, God made flesh. Jesus is not our rival or our adversary. God is born to us, comes to us with no strings attached. He comes to us without judgment. He comes to us transparent as a child, dependent as an infant, gentle as a dove, simply placing Himself in our hands. He comes in vulnerability and weakness. And, as children do, He invites us to get in touch with the value of our accepting and embracing our littleness, our weakness, our vulnerability, our dependence on God and on each other. That is why God put Himself into our hands. That is what Bethlehem was about. That is what coming as a baby is about. God was showing us the way to peace, to lasting peace, that has nothing to do with creating victims or finding our unity based on exclusion.

Christmas is meant to be our model for living. Christmas is meant to be the way to peace and salvation for the world. The God who loves us is a God who becomes vulnerable, dependent in the manger and dependent on the cross, a God who basically is saying “I love you with an everlasting love." I give Myself to you that you may have peace and joy, and that your joy may be full. My power comes through weakness; your power comes through weakness by allowing My power to sustain you.”

Tonight, we receive the gifts of the lowliness and power of God. The lowly Christ Child is the power of God that changes hearts, that changes the world and restores hope to it. The Child of Bethlehem leads the way to peace; it is the way of gentleness and humility.

Jesus shows us the way, saying: "Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your soul. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” What comforting words! What assurance and promise of hope!

Tonight, we come to the manger, each of us, in our human weakness. I invite you to seek the power of weakness. Do not be afraid! Seek the easy yoke that will lighten your load and lift the burdens you carry from your shoulders. Come to the Infant Jesus who became the Savior of the world: not through force or wielding weapons, but through suffering and death at our hands.

Christ became our Savior through nonviolence and forgiveness. Come to the manger and receive the Holy Spirit, God that empowers us to forgive even as we are forgiven. The only way to meaningfully engage power and create real peace is through weakness and humility, forgiving one another.

As you come to receive Christ in Holy Communion tonight, your body becomes the manger and your heart becomes the cradle. Every time you open them up to receive the Holy Eucharist, you are receiving the power to become children of God. Allow God to love you completely without reserve. He enters your body, your history, your future, and makes you a bearer of His peace and His glory.

Dear brothers and sisters, truly this night is one for rejoicing. It should be impossible to be sad this day, for today is Life’s birthday; The Life of which I speak is Jesus Christ; the Life that takes away the sins of the world and brings to it the bright promise of eternal life.

It is a fool who refuses to partake in our rejoicing this night. What mortal being in his or her right mind would refuse the gifts and blessings the birth of the Child of Bethlehem brings to us all. All people have an equal share in the cause of our joy, for Christ, who is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, who is the destroyer of sin and death, comes to make all men free.

This night, come to the manger to worship and adore the One who has set the stars in the sky and has made the sun and the moon to mark the seasons. Rejoice, all you who are faithful, for Christ God comes to confirm you in righteousness! Rejoice, all you sinners, for Christ God comes to pardon you, to set you free, and to lead you from the darkness and slavery of sin into the light of righteousness and freedom! Rejoice also, you unbelievers, for God calls you to life through Christ Jesus who, when the fulness of time had come, took upon Himself the nature of man, that He might reconcile that nature to Him who made it.

With the birth of Jesus Christ, Satan, the inventor of death, has been met and beaten by the very flesh which had been his field of victory.  When our Lord engaged the devil in battle, He did so with great and wonderful fairness. He did not use His power as God to defeat and subdue the evil one, but being Himself the Almighty, He laid aside His uncreated Majesty to fight Satan in our weak flesh. Christ brought against the devil the very shape, the very nature of our mortality, yet without sin.

The birth of Jesus was not like other births, for no other human being, other than the Mother of God herself, is born pure; for she was chosen a Virgin of the royal lineage of David to conceive and bear the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, by Whom all things were made and in Whom all things have their being.

Mary knew the will of God as announced to her by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, and though she was initially confused, she nevertheless willingly and without question accepted God’s will. The future Mother of God knew what was to be wrought in her by the Holy Spirit, and that her modesty and purity would remain intact.

Mary had full confidence and faith in God; she had no reason to worry about her safety and welfare. God protects those whom He loves. His treatment of Mary should be a comfort to us knowing that we have a loving Father who protects and cherishes His children and who would never put them in harm’s way. Sometimes, we forget that God is on our side. Sometimes, people think that He is so indifferent to our struggles and our suffering. But, our God is not a distant or aloof God. Our God wants to be with us and He wants us to dwell with Him. That is why He sent His Son to us, that we may know and see His face in Jesus, His Divine Son, and experience more fully His love through and in Christ. For this, we must give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit; for in His great love for us, He has had mercy on us and, even though we were dead in sin, He has made us alive in Christ, that we might become a new creature, and become like Him and live with Him forever.

By being born a human being, God has lifted us up once again and restored the image of man that was lost when Adam and Eve first sinned. In Christ, we are made great again. In Christ, hope and light have once again become humanity’s possession. Christ is the Light that can never fade, nor can it ever be extinguished. The Light of Christ illumines all and dispels the darkness of sin and despair.

The Child of Bethlehem, who has been born of the Virgin Mary, and who now lays quietly in the manger, is the only hope and salvation of humanity and the world. The presence of the Infant King among us is our assurance that life is found in simplicity and innocence, in meekness and vulnerability. 

Of Christ’s Body, we are made members; He dwells in us and us in Him. By His birth, the Christ Child has entered into our lives; He has delivered us from evil and has translated us into God’s light, and God’s kingdom. How can I explain in human terms what this means? There are no words adequate or sufficient to describe such a sublime reality and such an awesome and priceless gift.

It is no coincidence nor was it by chance that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The name Bethlehem means the “House of Bread.” Thus, it is the birthplace of Him who said, “I am the Living Bread, which came down from Heaven” (John 6:51). And, “I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35). We see then, that this little town of Bethlehem, was prophetically given its name because within its borders was to be born in the flesh, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Bethlehem, obscure and insignificant as it once was, is now the most famous city in the history of the world because it has the singular honor of being the birthplace of Jesus, the God-man. He who was begotten of the Father before the world came into being, came down from Heaven that we mortals may have eternal life. And this He did in Bethlehem. That is why Bethlehem is so important to the Christian Faith. That is why we Christians should be very concerned about what is happening not only in Bethlehem but in Jerusalem as well. We cannot sit idly by as Christians and the Christian Faith are being pushed out of Israel. We cannot let the place where the Light which dispels the darkness and illumines all was born.

Christ is our light forever! God has shattered the darkness of night with the birth of His Son. As the Prophet Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. This is the reason we gather tonight to celebrate the birth of the Lord, the Expected One: because He breaks into the night of despair and chaos, of disorder and doubt, with the light of His countenance. The child which now lays in a manger is the Light of the world and the world’s only hope and salvation.

The brightness of Christmas and the Light which it brings into the world can only be seen through the eyes of faith. It can only be made real if we understand and acknowledge that the Light is Christ Himself. Without Christ, there is no light, there is no hope, there is no reason for Christmas.

We recognize on this Holy Night that even after centuries of knowing Jesus Christ, our world still wanders in darkness. Even after proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, many hearts are not yet converted to Him, and our world less so. We, humans, are a broken people, and each one of us here tonight is broken.

Is it any wonder why so many people feel unfilled and empty at Christmas time? Could the reason be that they have succeeded in removing Christ from Christmas? If so, then we know why Christmas has no meaning for so many. But, tonight is Christmas, the beginning of a twelve-day feast celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world. Imagine, beloved, how different everyone would feel if Christ was put back into Christmas. Imagine the joy, the happiness, the realization that Love has come to set us free if all turned to see Christmas in its real light.

No matter how terrible our lives may seem, no matter how enmeshed we may find ourselves in sin, no matter what bad circumstances we may find ourselves in, let us rejoice, for the gates of Heaven have been opened to us. So too has the door to living righteous and pious lives in this world been opened to us. God’s love has come to earth this night, and we can rejoice now and forever. Let us walk always in the light of the Infant King of kings born this night in Bethlehem.