Sunday Sermon for December 25, 2011, the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord
Readings: Is 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
Today we celebrate one of the most glorious feasts in the Church’s calendar and, at the same time, one of the most mysterious. People love Christmas, not because of the secular activities that are involved, but because we can all understand the joy that comes with the birth of a baby. However, the Baby Whose birth we celebrate today is God, the One Who is called the Ancient One in the Book of Daniel. Perhaps the insight of St. Augustine who spoke of the beauty ever ancient, ever new, can be applied in special way for us today.
There are many prophecies from the Old Testament that refer to a Child being born who would be a Son to God and God would be a Father to Him. However, I do not assume that anyone, looking at those prophecies at face value, would ever have come to the conclusion that the Son of God Himself would take on our human nature and be born in the likeness of a slave.
In this Child we have the fulfillment of everything we hear about in the first reading. We can all understand the idea of a child being born for us and a son being given to us, but He is also the light shining on those who dwell in darkness, He is the One Who smashed the yoke of slavery for us, He is the just King Who sits on the throne of David. However, once again, anyone reading the original verses of Isaiah would probably not guess that the Son, the Child, the King of whom we are speaking here is God.
This is where the astounding insight of St. Paul deepens the mystery of this gift God Himself has given us. In the second reading St. Paul tells us that the grace of God has appeared. This is basically the same point St. John makes when he tells us that this life was made visible, we have looked upon it with our eyes, we touched it with our hands. Grace is the life of God; needless to say, life itself cannot be seen or touched. Each of us has life, but it is the person, not the life, that can be seen and touched.
But God is life, love and truth; in God, the Persons cannot be seen or touched because God is pure spirit. Beyond this Scripture tells us that God dwells in light inaccessible. Being human, we normally receive everything through our senses. This makes it nearly impossible for us to grasp very much about God; it can also make it very easy for us to be filled with a servile fear of God because we cannot understand.
The birth of Jesus makes life, love and truth accessible to us; it makes the Person of the Son of God approachable to us. We do not have to be afraid because He came to us as a baby. He has made Himself completely vulnerable as only a baby can. We are never afraid to draw near to a baby because we know that the baby will not reject us or hurt us. God cannot change, so the fact that He has made Himself visible and vulnerable tells us the way God wants us to approach Him: without fear, with innocence, without pretense, the real person God created us to be. Of course, we see this vulnerability and love again on the Cross where our Lord draws us to Himself as He does to His crib.
On Christmas night, we read in the Gospel today, the Angels told the shepherds not to be afraid and that they came to announce good news of great joy. The shepherds, the humble, simple, “average” people are the ones called to adore the Christ child. Today you and I are called to this same privilege. Today we can see the crèche and we can see the Crucifix before us at Church, but there is another mystery of our Lord’s presence right before us.
The whole mystery of the Person of Jesus Christ is contained in the Eucharist where He is more accessible and more vulnerable than He was in either birth or in His crucifixion alone. We are told in the Gospel that Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth and that they went to Bethlehem. Nazareth means a shoot as in a shoot shall rise from the stump of Jesse. Bethlehem means “house of bread.” The son of David, the King of Kings, the all powerful God is present among us in the form of bread. He is the Baby in the manger, the Lord on the Cross and the God of all glory among us, accessible to us and vulnerable before us. Fear not! Humble yourself and come to Him as He humbled Himself to come to you.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.