Christmas is about the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ the Son of God. Christmas is about anticipation and fulfillment, tension……… and release. The baby in the manger in Bethlehem is the answer to God’s promises going all the way back to Genesis, the beginning of humanity, and our primordial rejection of our trust in God’s goodness. Jesus is the Son of the Woman who would crush the head of the Serpent who is the Father of Lies, who continues to tempt us, trick us, and enslave us, with his lies.
Jesus is the fulfillment of Adam; he is the New Adam, who will protect the honor of his Bride from the wickedness and snares of the devil. Jesus is the new Noah, who gathers and leads his family through the storm to safety and new life. Jesus is the new Melchizedek, the priest-king who offers the sacrifice of bread and wine to the glory of God Most High. Jesus is the New Moses, who frees his people from the suffering of slavery into covenant and communion with the true God, who leads us through the dangers of the wilderness on a New Exodus, gives us a New Law to guide us in truth, feeds us with New manna (bread from heaven), and delivers us to a New Promised Land. Jesus is the new Solomon, king and Son of David, who will build up the kingdom of God, and will rule in wisdom, and whose eternal kingdom will be the reign of justice, mercy, and love. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who will protect and lead the people of God, providing them peace in good pasture, with living water, and who will bind their wounds, heal the weak and sick, and gather the wandering and the lost. There are many, many images throughout the Old Testament that point to their fulfillment in the Messiah: the Passover Lamb, the prophet Elisha, the Son of Man, the child of the virgin, and on and on. What God had promised, God fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah.
All of this expectation, all of this promise, all of this fulfillment of the images and hopes and dreams and cries for rescue and redemption—all the power of God’s infinite divine love, all of this—is signified and embodied in the meaning of this one tiny little baby, born of poor, humble parents, in a simple little village, on a still, silent night.
Isaiah sings of the glory of this child of promise, in a time of great darkness and anguish. In Isaiah’s time, Israel was being oppressed by powerful enemies, and the king was lukewarm and political, refusing to trust in God, but trusting rather in a powerful but dangerous ally. And Isaiah sees the birth of the royal child as the dawning of a new age of hope for the people of God, a light in the darkness, a joy in a time of turmoil, a brave new glorious dawn to end the night of fear and trembling. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone! You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing… For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed… For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.”
Some of us gathered here on this night haven’t been here maybe since Easter, maybe since last Christmas, maybe years, maybe this is your first time. So welcome, or welcome back. You are very welcome and appreciated here, and we hope that you come back often, and that you might find our beautiful church to be inviting, perhaps enough be called your spiritual home, your place of finding God in the confusion and anxiety of the world.
Some of us, no doubt, are deeply troubled by the clergy-abuse scandal that’s been all over the news, and perhaps the decision to come to Church tonight was a difficult one. We have talked about it, and have been making our way through our anger and frustration, at the betrayal of so many supposedly holy men, and the suffering of so many innocent children and their families. I share in that anger, frustration, disgust, and disappointment. It’s a difficult time. But as we said this summer, the way forward is in truth and humility. We pray for the healing of victims, we pray for justice and mercy for all involved.
But most of all, we pray that we here might be better examples of what it means to be Catholic. We pray that as God shown his mercy in the darkness on Christmas night, so he might shine with his mercy through the darkness of these times, to restore his Church to her first love: coming together to minister to God with praise and adoration, to receive his grace and divine blessings through the liturgies, sacraments, and prayers, and to minister to others with generosity, compassion, and love. That’s what it means to be the Church, and we cannot let others try to redefine our story and our identity in terms of those who have failed to be who and what they promised to be. We pray and remain faithful and virtuous, which is what God’s holy people have done from the beginning, and will do until the end of time. The Church has had many scandals and periods of corruption in its…colorful…past, and she has survived, and even thrived, when they are met with courage, humility, and love, and she will so again. In the words of the Devotion to Divine Mercy, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
In our second reading, Saint Paul writes, “The grace of God has appeared… training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the… savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”
This is the reality of Christmas in our lives: That God in his grace and mercy have come to us, to lead us out of the darkness of lawlessness, godless ways, and worldly desires, into the light of living temperately, justly, and devoutly, and being cleansed to be a people of his own, eager to do what is good.
Do you need to go to church to be good? For the most part, yes. Because sin darkens the intellect and weakens the will. We need to be taught and formed in mind and heart in what is good. Some things that seem good are not good. Many things promoted by our society as good are far from good. And some things we don’t want to do are very good. And also, the grace we receive from the Church—the Holy Word and Holy Eucharist of the Mass, the forgiveness of Sins in Confession, the grace of the sacraments of our vocation—these give us supernatural strength to do good, especially when it’s very difficult, and especially when we’ve created bad habits that dispose us more easily to doing what is not good.
Christmas is about the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ the Son of God. Christmas is about expectation and fulfillment, tension, and release. Let us live the miracle of Christmas by making the most of the mercy made available to us: his light in our darkness, his mercy in our sin, his life in our hearts, his divinity in our humanity, his glory in our world, his fulfillment of our hope. Merry Christmas, and may God abundantly bless you.