All of the shopping, all of the rushing about, all of the busy-ness of Christmas is now over. Today the streets are deserted. A quiet and peaceful stillness lays over all. Now the religious meaning of Christmas is allowed to emerge from beneath all of the mall music, the shopping, and the frantic preparations for this day.
But to what do we turn our attention? To peace on earth toward men of good will? Yes, and something more. To the sharing of love with family? Yes, and something more. To joining together with the ones we love? Yes, but more. Christmas is more than having a lovely time, more than family sharing, more than the so-called “happy holidays.”
We celebrate today what so many are looking for. We focus our attention today on that which will give peace to many who are lonely, uneasy with themselves, and who are searching for meaning in their lives.
The centerpiece of the Mass, the essence of Catholicism, and the core of our belief is what we consider today. The only essential and ultimately important reality is the joining of humanity with divinity. This joinder is the genius of Christianity and the core of Catholic devotion. It is that which unites liberal and conservative, saint and sinner, European and American, black and white. God and man at table are sat down.
The birth of Jesus Christ is not the birth of one religious prophet among many, one founder of a religion among many, the birth of one good man among many others. It is rather the stupendous joining of humanity with divinity.
In a few short moments we will make it all happen again. All over the world, in the Vatican as well as in Baghdad, in Jerusalem as well as in Cairo, Catholics celebrate the Incarnation… God becoming human flesh. We don’t say that our humanity is perfect. It certainly is not. We do say, however, that we are loved so much by God that He has become one of us. We are loved and being redeemed sinners. In every Mass, God in His mercy becomes one with us.
The long tradition of a sinners’ church is perhaps the most commanding reason for the survival of Catholicism. Catholic theology is by no means a theology of the elite and the elect. Nor is our theology one of predestination. However much our understanding of hell may be dim, we all recognize that it is still quite possible for one to lose his or her soul… or to save it.
The salvation of a sinful humanity, a sinful humanity that constitutes the Church, is the saving grace of our Church. Today a savior has been born for us, Christ the Lord. He was born, lived, and died as one of us. He is Emmanuel – God with us – in every aspect of human living.
He was born in very humble circumstances. He lived a modest life. Thirty years of His life were lived in hidden obscurity and in the ordinary daily life we all live as members of a family. He never stormed the palaces of power. He ran for no political office. He refused riches, and more importantly He refused to succumb to the temptation of His own popularity. He lived with ordinary people and He chose very ordinary men to be His apostles. His proclamation was uttered in simple words, in parables of universal appeal in their simply clarity. Finally He died a shameful death, the death of a crucified criminal, alone, quite helpless, and apparently defeated.
What, then, do we celebrate? After all, He did not give us a free ticket through life, a life free of loss, pain, and suffering. We still have to rise each morning and face days loaded with pain, loneliness, and self-doubt. We worry, we fear, and we are uncertain.
What we celebrate is the fact that God has become very much a part of His creation. God has entered the process of creation with us. He is not simply alongside of us, He is part of us as we struggle to bring order out of chaos, as we suffer in world straining to be born anew, living in a frenzied drive to bring perfection to a world that is far from perfect.
God and man are now conjoined. God is not dead nor doth He sleep. His is not aloof. He is not “out there in the cosmos” living in grand and disinterested isolation from us. What we celebrate is that God is living out, with us, through us, and within us, the full measure of human suffering. He is saving us within all that we face. Unto us a savoir is born. He is Christ, the Lord!
This is the cup of my blood, He tells us. Take it and drink it. Take my life and mingle it with yours. Take and drink the life-supporting and live-giving blood that is mine. It is now yours… and your blood is now mine. Sinful blood, human blood, sinful flesh, human flesh, your flesh and mine are now joined in God’s. God and man at table are sat down.
And so today we celebrate the centerpiece of all Catholic theology… the foundation of the Eucharist and it’s core meaning… the central dogma of all who call themselves Catholic.
It is the one thing that gives me hope in world filled with destruction, desolation, and terror. It is the one shining brilliant star shining above a world that seems terribly dark. It is the one tongue of fire, light, and warmth blazing in a world that otherwise seems to have gone cold in its darkness. It is the most tremendous source of hope I have, it is that which is the keystone of my faith and which I share with you today… HOPE! Hope because of Jesus Christ.
Back in 1970 a Belgian Cardinal by the name of Suenens was asked the question: “Why are you a man of hope even in these days?” He answered:
Because I believe that God is new every morning, I believe that God is creating the world today, at this very moment. He did not just create it in the long ago and then forget about it. That means that we have to expect the unexpected as the normal way of God’s providence at work.
I am hopeful, not for human reasons or because I am optimistic by nature, but because I believe in the Holy Spirit present in His Church and in the world – even if people don’t know His name. I am hopeful because I believe that the Holy Spirit is still the Creating Spirit, and that He will give us every morning fresh freedom, joy, and a new provision of hope, if we open our soul to Him.
And so we celebrate today the fact that just as God came to the Garden of Eden to search out Adam and Eve, so also did He come to us in Jesus Christ to search us out and fill us with God’s Holy Spirit. And we celebrate the stupendous reality that He comes to us in every Holy Communion to be made flesh in your flesh, and so mingle His blood with yours and thus to search out and enter into your heart.
This is God’s Christmas gift to you. What will you give to Him? Hopefully we will give Him the gift of ourselves and our love.