This is the homily I gave at our Solemn High Sung Midnight Mass. The entire liturgy was exceptionally beautiful and I think rivaled the great Cathedrals of our land and inched up toward St. Peter's Basilica. No brag, just fact. God bless you this Christmastide!
Recently as I was surfing through the channels on TV, I saw Oprah Winfry interviewing Charla Nash. She is that poor woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee who belonged to her good friend. The Chimpanzee destroyed her face and eyes and her hands. Her face was covered with a veil during the interview. I thought Oprah was exploiting this poor woman for shock value and when Oprah asked that the woman remove her veil, I turned the station because the sight of her face was repulsive to me. But later, I saw an interview that Meredith Vieira did with the same woman and began to realize that it was important to see this woman and hear her words and that I had misunderstood what Oprah was doing. This was a child of God who had suffered a terrible life changing tragedy. While her face was destroyed, her soul was not. As I listened to her talk about her disfigurement, her face was no longer repulsive to me. Part of the interview was with the 19 year old daughter of this woman. Meredith asked her what it was like seeing her mother the way she is now. “When I look at my mother I just see my mother.” This daughter loved her mother unconditionally and was able to look past the gross disfigurement she had experienced to see her mother and only her mother.
God does the same with us. Although sin is repulsive to God, He looks beyond the gross disfigurement that our sin does to us and offers His unconditional love to us. The celebration of Christmas makes clear to us that God does not look the other way but looks squarely at us and sees us as His child.
The Nativity of our Lord once again teaches the world that God loves each of us even in the disfigurement that our sin brings to our souls.
The comfort and joy for the sinner and saint in this church this Christmastide is that God loves you unconditionally.
We get a glimpse into God’s unconditional love through the love of our very own loved ones. When I was 16 years old, I worked at the Dairy Queen. The store would close at 11:00 PM and my father always told me to drive home immediately and not go anywhere. For some strange reason my older brother let me drive his brand new 1970 Pontiac GTO to work. It only had a 400 horse power engine. After work, I decided that I would show some of my friends what 400 horse power could do. That was a mistake, because I crashed my brother’s car and nearly totaled it. Except for my ego, I was unhurt, but I was afraid to call my parents and by the time the police investigation ended it was almost 2:00 AM. So I called my married sister and her husband to take me home to face the music with my parents and my brother. I was very fearful of my parent’s wrath at my disobedience and even more afraid of my brother’s wrath at his demolished GTO. Yet when I got home at about 2:30 AM, much to my pleasant surprise my parents were happy to see me and they were actually glad I hadn’t been injured or killed, including my brother. In other words, they loved me and show that love to me when I was most in need, the poor miserable sinner that I was (and continue to be). Christmas should remind us of that kind of loving comfort and joy even when we really don’t think we deserve it.
Those of us who really are aware of how our sin offends God and others, truly appreciate the unconditional love that God extends to us in His Son Jesus. That famous passage from John that so many flash at sporting events on TV and other live television events; it is John 3:10, God so loved the world that He sent His only Son not to condemn the world but to save it. We get it! We know the meaning of Christmas. God does not reject us, but His unconditional love compels us to repentance, to confession, to the Church and to Holy Communion. The Nativity in our church an in our homes, the beautiful Christmas music, the time for family and friends and remembering our loved ones who have gone to the other side of life in God’s loving embrace, this is what Christmas comfort and joy are all about.
The comfort and joy of the Nativity scene brings us cannot be separated from the cross, the means by which the only Son of God would prove His unconditional love for us and his desire we live with Him forever in heaven.
In addition to the manger scene, one of the other powerful visual devotions we have in the Church is the Way of the Cross. To pray the Way of the Cross on Good Friday is very powerful for many of us. I know that it is for me. When I am leading the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, one of the most moving times is at the 12 Station:
V. We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You.
R. Because by Your holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.
Consider how your Jesus, after three hours' Agony on the Cross, consumed at length with anguish, abandons Himself to the weight of His body, bows His head, and dies.
O my dying Jesus, I kiss devoutly the Cross on which You did die for love of me. I have merited by my sins to die a miserable death; but Your death is my hope. Ah, by the merits of Your death, give me grace to die, embracing Your feet, and burning with love for You. I yield my soul into Your hands. I love You with my whole heart; I repent of ever having offended You. Never permit me to offend You again. Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me what You wilt.
Jesus dies on the Cross. We all kneel. There is a long moment of dead silence. This brings tears to many eyes in the congregation. From the manger to the cross, God’s unconditional love is made visible, powerfully so. Christmas and Easter and every Sunday throughout the year, God’s love is here, available to be received, internalized and brought to a sinful and broken world through the ministry of Catholics who know they must bring Christ to all they meet.
Only the two Gospels of Matthew and Luke present us with the “Infancy Narratives” concerning the incarnation and birth of Jesus Christ. Each has a particular “slant” with specific theological aspects. If we only had the Infancy Narratives of these gospels and no other information, we would have the Gospel of Christ in miniature. The angelic choir makes clear that Jesus is God and Man, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The message to the shepherds makes clear that Jesus came for the outcast and rejected, for the sinner. The adoration of the Magi shows that conversion is for all people and Jesus’ message is universal. It makes clear that Jesus will suffer and eventually die, but by way of paradox, this will fulfill His mission to redeem the world from sin and death. The wood of the manger and the swaddling clothes anticipate the wood of the cross and the burial shroud. Jesus is placed into a “feeding trough” for animals, symbolizing our Lord Jesus who will become the Eucharistic Food for the world at Holy Mass.
Our reception of the Most Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, is the clearest sign that we want to respond to God’s unconditional love, through repentant hearts, and forgiven and reconciled lives. Comfort and joy are here for the receiving. Let us receive so great a Savior worthily and with hearts on fire to do as He asks us to do.