Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Homily for The Eve of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Eve)
Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Something that I miss from growing up in the Midwest are the sunsets and the sunrises there. In a word, they are simply stunning and spectacular. Why is that? Well, have you been there? Have you been to states like Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and even Wisconsin and Minnesota and others? They are flat! You can see for miles and miles in every direction. And, the sunsets and the sunrises seem to stretch for miles and miles in every direction too. It is in the Midwest that the sun actually looks like that iconic sunny-side-up fried egg when it rises. And, when it sets, its colors are rose and violet and orange and yellow as far as the eye can see. But, it all begins in the silence and darkness of the night. When all is as still and dark and quiet as death, then, all in a moment, a point of light appears. And, quickly, the darkness flees as the horizon breaks forth in glorious light. Yes, the people of Illinois, a people sleeping in darkness, have seen a great light. “Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Just like that, it’s day, it’s no longer night. It is a new day, for the night has passed and cannot return.
The coming of Jesus at Christmas is like that. “When all was still and it was midnight, Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne.” The stillness and the darkness of midnight represent our fallen condition. When the Scriptures describe us as a people walking in the darkness, even children of the darkness, they mean that we are completely corrupted and enslaved by sin and death. Moreover, the stillness and the silence are symbolic of our inability to help ourselves out of our fallen condition, or even to see that there is hope for help outside of ourselves. Thus, the images of dawn and light bespeak something happening to us that is beyond our control, an action that is done to us and for us from outside of us – God’s gift of His Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the dawn that rises upon us. He is the morning star, the brightest of the stars of the morning, rising just before the dawn. Jesus is the Light of God before He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, even the Light of the World who scatters the darkness, in whose presence darkness cannot abide. Jesus is the free gift of God’s grace given to us without any merit or worth in ourselves. Jesus is the free gift given into a virgin womb without the aid or work or merit of any man or woman. Jesus is truly extra nos, from outside of us. And, yet, wondrously, mysteriously, miraculously, He has become one of us: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us; and we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Blessed Christmas!
And that has changed everything! For, without the light, darkness remains darkness and will never be anything other than darkness. But, when the light comes, there is no darkness – period! Likewise, without the dawn, the night continues on unchanging. But, when the morning star rises, the night has ended and the day has come – period! And, when the Archangel Gabriel spoke the creative Word of God into the virgin soil of Mary’s womb, the Light of the World pierced man’s sin-darkened humanity and obliterated its deathly hold over us evermore. In the beginning of the new creation, God spoke His creative Word into the nothingness of a virgin womb and said, “Let there be Light, and let there be Life.” And, it was so. And the multitude of the heavenly host praised God and sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Blessed Christmas!
And, that is the meaning of this night. That is the meaning of Christmas. God has reconciled the world, God has reconciled humanity, God has reconciled you to Himself by taking on your flesh and by becoming your brother in Jesus Christ. And, just as Jesus would teach, “Greater love has no man this, that he would lay down his life for his friends,” even so, the greatest gift God could give you was Himself. He made Himself a little lower than the angels that He might crown man with glory. God became a man that man might become God. You are not gods, but you have been joined into God in Jesus Christ. He is your Father even as He is Jesus’ Father. His kingdom is your kingdom even as it is Jesus’ kingdom. His eternal life and reign are yours to share, as you are His body, and He your head, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. Blessed Christmas!
And, on the night of Jesus’ birth, the heavens were ablaze with the brilliant light of God’s glory as the angelic host appeared to the lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. They proclaimed the announcement of Jesus’ birth and peace with God. The shepherds were stricken with fear and the unexpected sight and because of their sinfulness in the presence of the holiness of God, but the first message the messenger gave was an absolution, “Fear not!” And he continued, “for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And, “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” The dawn has broken. Light has come. No longer need men dwell in the darkness of sin and death. Blessed Christmas!
“And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” They were no longer mere shepherds, but they were changed. Yes, they were still shepherds, but in their vocations they were also messengers, evangelists, and more! For, when the light shines in the darkness, the darkness scatters and is no more. So, too, did Mary treasure all these things in her heart. She was changed. At all times she would be aware of the grace and the favor that was shown to her, and so would she show grace and favor to all. You too have received God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. You too have been changed. No longer is anyone unlovable, unacceptable, unforgivable, but all have been redeemed in Christ Jesus. Blessed Christmas! The silent night has been broken by the bright and joyous sound of the Gospel, the Good News that is for all people. Let us be like Blessed Mary, and ponder these things always in our hearts. Let us be like the Blessed shepherds, and refuse to remain silent, but praise and glorify God by telling the Good News to all!
Like the morning star, which pierces the darkness of the night, the Son of God has broken into our night of sin and death and has transformed it by taking up our flesh and being born as a child. And, that has changed everything! Blessed Christmas! The gift of God in Christ Jesus has made you to be a gift as well. Let us who have received everything from Him withhold nothing from others. In this new year of God’s grace, let us not forget His gift at Christmas, but, like Mary His mother, treasure these things in our hearts. And, from the treasure and blessing of our heart, let us bless each other, and others. May we give of the gift we have received freely and graciously to the glory of God’s holy Name. For, Christ is truly the gift that keeps on giving. He is the grace, mercy, love, peace, compassion, and forgiveness of God poured out for you, poured into you, overflowing out of you without end into the lives of others. You can never exhaust His grace. And, you can never run out of His grace to share. Blessed Christmas!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.