Homily for the Christmas Vigil Mass

Tonight we celebrate the second most wonderful time of the year. The Christian Church has re-enacted the events of the first Easter—the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ—since the second Easter—and celebrates them again with every celebration of the Mass. Everything about Christianity revolves around that paschal—or Easter—mystery. The Church didn’t begin celebrating the Birth of the Lord, the first Christmas, until 350 years later. And even now, Christmas, properly celebrated, still points us toward Easter. Why?

Because Easter is why we are the Church. Easter is what gives us the grace to live differently—to be persons more hopeful, more joyful, more love-filled, more generous, more humble, more patient, more forgiving, more spiritual, and more prayerful— than our non-believing friends and relatives. Easter is what gives us the grace of baptism and penance—the sacraments that free us from sin. Easter is what gives us the grace of the Eucharist—the Spiritual food of the Body and Blood of Christ for our Spiritual life. Easter is what gives us the grace of the sacrament of marriage, which allows husbands and wives to give of themselves totally to each other in a supernaturally open and fruitful way, the entire length and depth of their lives. Easter is what gives us the grace at death to hope for our entry into eternal fulfillment, eternal joy, eternal exploration of the mystery of our God and His Creation. Easter is what gives us, who live faithfully as Christians, a participation in God’s own life and love in all that we do. Christmas, properly celebrated, still points us toward Easter…because Easter is why Jesus was born.

Tonight we celebrate the second most wonderful time of the year. If Easter is the warm brightness of the life-giving Sun, then Christmas is the brightly-shining moon in the cold and silent night, whose light is a reflection and anticipation of the sun’s light. Mary, with her pregnancy at full-term, who miraculously conceived in her womb by the Word of the Angel and the Overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, and Joseph the righteous man who received the message by an angel through a dream that Mary spoke the truth, and to take her as his wife and her unborn son as his own, were alone, miles from home, with no place to stay but a small cave used for animals. A young couple, two against the world, and now three, is scary enough for any young family. But they believed in each other, and in the God whose will they were struggling to understand, as we often do.

This beautiful baby boy is the Son of Mary and Son of God—the Messiah who will rule forever on the throne of King David his ancestor. This beautiful baby boy whose birth prophets and angels foretold, who would reconcile the sinful world of man with the heavenly city of God.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine—
Oh night when Christ was born
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!the-nativity-story-08

We celebrate the mysteries of our ancient faith each week and year because we need to continually remind ourselves of the truth of who we are—of what truth lies at the center of our souls. And we need to celebrate them each week and year because each of us is different now than we were before. We are at a different place in our world and in our lives, in our own personal growth and concerns, thoughts, fears, desires and hopes; and each year we are presented again with these mysteries to give us again the opportunity to integrate these mysteries into our new selves. We have new wisdom to penetrate more deeply into the mysteries, and to invite the mysteries to penetrate more deeply into us.

My brothers and sisters, this Christmas—is an opportunity for a new beginning—I encourage you to take this opportunity to enter more deeply into the relationship with God you were meant to have. Christianity is not primarily a set of rules or even a set of truths. Christianity is primarily our response to an invitation to a relationship of love with God our Creator. Christian Theology is the tradition of study of what God has revealed to us of Himself, so that we can more perfectly know the One whom our soul loves. Christian Morality is the tradition of study of how to distinguish the True Love of God, from imperfect versions of love that limit us, or even damage us, especially when human reason is unable to see these threats to our physical and spiritual flourishing. The Church is the tradition of coming together as the body of those who have responded to this invitation, and through grace become participants in the truly divine and worthy worship of God our Creator, sharing and living in the mystery of our redemption through the sacraments and the Holy Spirit.

My brothers and sisters, this relationship with God gives us power—the grace to live differently—to be persons more hopeful, more joyful, more love-filled, more generous, more humble, more patient, more forgiving, more spiritual, and more prayerful—a relationship we can enter into because of the most wonderful time of the year—Easter, a hope which begins again for us tonight, the second most wonderful time of the year: for tonight is Christmas. Merry Christmas. God bless you.

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