Christmas – 16
Merry Christmas! Don’t be afraid to say it… Merry Christmas!
The story is told about a priest who spent weeks preparing his Christmas homily. By Christmas eve he had it carefully written out. But the priest was nervous and – as was his custom – he took a shot of whiskey to calm his nerves.
Well, this Christmas homily was a big one, so he took a second shot, and a third. He went into his bedroom to get dressed and when he came back to his study, the priest could not find the text of his homily. He began searching in all the desk drawers and shelves, but it was nowhere in sight.
He searched for a half an hour. Nothing. It was getting close to time for the Christmas eve Mass. He knew he could not give the homily without the text in front of him. Finally, in desperation the priest lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Lord, help me find my homily.
If you do, I will never drink another drop of whiskey.” When he looked down, there, right in front of him – as if by a miracle – he saw the homily. He lifted his eyes back up to heaven and said, “Never mind, Lord. I found it myself.”
Now, I won’t tell you if that priest was me, but I wanted to begin with a humorous story because it ties in with the theme of this Christmas homily. The English writer, G.K. Chesterton referred to Christmas as a “sacred jest.” A jest is a quick, playful joke.
A joke involves bringing opposites together in an unexpected way. The little story, which I told, contained the contradiction between the priest’s simple piety and his desire for another shot of whiskey. We laugh – or at least smile – because we recognize similar contradictory things inside ourselves.
Christmas brings together the greatest of all opposites: God, who surrenders his power to become a helpless infant. The One who lives in the freedom of eternity binds himself in time. God – a simple, unchangeable spirit – takes on corruptible human flesh.
This is greatest jest of all. Chesterton expressed it in a memorable rhyme: And on that sacred jest the whole of Christianity doth rest.
When Chesterton said that Christianity is based on a joke, he does not mean that it is a made-up story. No, it is a true story, based on real historical events, but the story involves the bringing together of opposites in a surprising, unexpected way.
In order to be a Christian, a person needs a sense of humor. You can define a sense of humor as the ability to see through things, to get the point.
My dear brothers and sisters, all of our ideals, all of our dreams of what we want to be, and of what our world can be… all of our visions and understandings of God, and of God’s ways with us, are focused now on a child… God’s Anointed One, God’s Christ.
For a child, is born unto us, a son is given us, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying powerless in a manger, there being no room for him elsewhere in our world for his birth.
It is a sacred moment into which we now enter, a precious moment, a holy hour observed all over the world in Midnight Masses.
Midnight Mass gathers so many different people in a lovely moment of peace and happiness – Blacks and Whites, Asians, Africans, Latinos and Anglos…. Catholics, both active and devout as well as marginal and estranged, Protestants, members of others great faiths, and even doubtful believers with hesitant faith.
It is a transcendent moment when we suspend business as usual, when we suspend suspicion and animosities, when we lay aside resentments and jealousies, push back our hurts and anger. The Christmas story we have just heard once again presents us with tremendous vistas.
They offer the possibility of transforming yet again our beaten-up world and our humanity as we’re now living it; they offer us the invitation to take hold of God’s power and allow Him to re-shape our lives, our present condition, and our souls.
It is the prerogative of God to do such things. Isaiah’s cry once again reaches deep into our souls proclaiming: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor you have broken…. For a child, has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah’s cry is a fitting introduction to the Gospel account just read, the Christmas story, the infancy narrative of Jesus Christ.
In the darkness of our clutter and pollution, in our wasted energy and wasted lives, in the ruins of Jerusalem in which Isaiah cries out, in our deceptions both personal and in high public office, and in our aggressions – individual, racial and national, we hear it proclaimed once again that the grace of God has appeared.
And it offers salvation for us all, calling us to righteousness, giving us reasonable expectation and hope that human life can be changed, redeemed and transformed. The amazing account we have just heard is the good news of amazing grace made human flesh.
In our darkness, how do we and interpret life? How do we interpret our own lives and the lives of our families? What light do we offer our sons and daughters in which to see and judge?
Tonight, we can turn to offer them a gift that can never be bought in any shopping mall… tonight in Christ’s Mass, Christmas Midnight Mass, we can offer them a gift that can only come from God, the reality and the truth that the life of God has become and still becomes human life.
You are celebrating this Mass with very real people who have discovered that there is more goodness in our world than evil… that there is more good in their selves than they once thought before.
You are among people who attend Mass each and every weekend, not out of obligation and fear of hell, but out of love. You are among people who are recovering their lives from addictions, who have undergone major conversions, and who have come to know Jesus in very personal, intimate and loving ways.
Tremendous power, infinite faith, hope, love, goodness, wisdom and vision are all here…. for each one of you, and for me along with you.
This is the moment when ordinary humanity is given the power to become extra-ordinary…the moment when ordinary bread and common wine become infinitely extra-ordinary… and when all that seems fairy-tale like in the telling becomes very real and very human in the living.
The eternal Word, that Word that is God, became quite human so that we might more easily see and understand… and more divinely live.
It is Christ’s Mass, Christmas Midnight Mass, a precious moment that can become a forever of moments for you and for me, all because of a God who does not reject and despise your humanity and mine…. because He has fallen in love with us.
May that gift and that Good News be forever yours and your children’s, forever yours and mine and our friends’, forever a part of the blessed and wonderful life we share here in our Sacred Heart family of faith.
May God bless you all. Merry Christmas.