At last we are celebrating Christmas in a church. The shopping malls have had their season of sales and the TV shows have given us their programs. On the surface there is a sort of noisy joy the world offers us at Christmas, a giddy joy that we experience at parties and gatherings of families and friends. All that is good and I hope you have experienced those good times this Christmas. There is, however, a deeper joy, a deeper joy that God offers us at Christmas, a deep down joy that comes with knowing that we are loved in a special way by God. Charles Dickens leads us toward that in his famous novel A Christmas Carol.
Now we are with Joseph and Mary in a church where once again in a few moments God the Son will come to us… this time in Holy Communion. Born of a little Jewish girl, with a carpenter for His step-father, the newborn Christ was given a feeding trough for a crib. Shepherds and farm animals witnessed His coming among us. What was little, humble, and ordinary became astonishingly extra-ordinary. Hidden and away in little Bethlehem, almost in secret, in the quiet of night, the very inner nature of our humanity and our world was changed. Today, hidden deep in our hearts and souls, He comes to us once again.
What was true then is true now. God gave Himself to us in the birth of a baby in humble circumstances and God gives Himself to us now, once again, in what appears to be humble bread and simple wine. It has remained so down through 2,000 years of our human history. In every celebration of the Mass God continues to come to us in humble and simple love. What a wonder that is!
The birth of Jesus Christ has changed everything for us. Human nature has been invested with God’s own divine life. God’s self-expression and God’s love are now present to us in our humanity, in our human nature. Deep within, the material order has now been sanctified by God’s own Holy Spirit. Mysteriously, God has entered into His creation; the material order has become the vessel of the spiritual order.
Before Christ’s birth death meant oblivion, eternal darkness, and total loss. Now, because of Christ’s birth, life’s destiny is everlasting. Death has been turned on its head and transformed to birth into eternal life. Before Christ, we did not experience God as near. Now, because of Christ, we know that God is near, and not only near, He has become a part of us. That is astounding news, infinitely good news.
Sanctity now exists deep within us; we are endowed with it by our Creator. Our task, our work, is to purge, to sculpt and to chip away all that disguises and disfigures our sanctity in order to reveal our true identity, the identity in which God sees us and to which God calls us individually and personally by name. That can be done only by working with God; we cannot do it on our own.
Our choices now have consequences, consequences not limited to events in this life, but consequences with eternal implications. God has offered, now we must respond. Everything depends upon the quality of our responses to God’s offer, the quality and content of our daily decisions.
Our lives matter. Before you were born God had you in mind. He had a particular person in His mind, the particular person that is you. You were born with your own DNA coding, a coding that no one else ever had or ever will have. You were born with a DNA coding that according to God’s design came to you through your ancestors. You are special and unique.
God wants to be loved by you, and only you can love God just as you. No one else was ever you and no one that ever will be can be just like you. You matter. You are important in God’s eyes. You are the special object of God’s love. No one who understands that can ever say they don’t matter or that their lives don’t matter, or that they are unimportant. God made you to be loved only as you. You were in God’s heart before you were born and you are in God’s heart now.
To tell you that, to give you that message, God sent you His only-begotten Son, born of Mary to love you who were likewise born of your mother. Your birth was significant because Christ’s birth was significant. When you look at a picture or a sculpture of Mary holding her Son it should remind you of your mother holding you. There’s a message in that image, a message from God telling you about who you really are.
St. John begins his Gospel speaking of God’s Word that became flesh, human flesh, the same flesh that is yours and mine. St. John tells us that all things came to be through Him. That means that you came into being and I came into being by God’s own Word. John goes on to speak of human rejection of God’s Word, but also that humans have accepted God’s Word made flesh. “But,” writes St. John, “to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice, nor by a man’s decision but of God.”
You came into life by God’s love, by God’s decision. What a truly incredible thought that is! What a wonder it is, then, that God gave you the life of His Son. What a wonder it is that God our Father will, in the bread and wine we are about to place on this altar, to give you once again the life of His Son. What joy that should give us!
Each Mass is another Christmas. Each Mass is an opportunity for us to be the shepherds who heard the angels on high and for us to be the Magi as well. Each one of us can follow in their footsteps and thus find Mary and her Son and receive the One she is offering us, her Son conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, the One who is both Son of God and Son of Man. How special is that?