Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Buon Natale, Frohe Weihnacten! A blessed and happy Christmas to everyone.
Every year we relive the wonderful Christmas story. The story tells us of a newborn baby in a trough. Of a mother holding her child in her arms, as her husband Joseph stays near. Of angels singing, and shepherds running over the hillside, to tell the child they love him.
The Gospel according to John summed up the magnificent story in a single line: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
That line takes us back in our imaginations to the beginnings of the human family, in Genesis: when man and woman walked with God, had friendship with God and one another. But somehow man and woman lost that friendship, fell from grace. Genesis describes very simply yet very powerfully that fall: they then tried to hide from God; one blamed another; earthly elements worked against them.
But God did not leave us to ourselves. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: Can a mother forget her child? And even if she should, I will never forget you. And so continued the story known as our salvation.
In the midst of ancient Israel’s triumphs and tragedies, fidelities and infidelities to the covenant, God never reneged on his promises. And so the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Rejoice, rejoice!
The Word of God for the Christmas liturgies is like a prism through which is refracted the multiple facets of this great mystery of the Incarnation.
Isaiah proclaims glad tidings: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Paul writes that the grace of God appeared in Jesus Christ who made us “heirs” to the promise of eternal life.
In the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, the Virgin Mary gave birth to her son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, a feed trough for animals.
And the Gospel of John sums up the meaning of Christmas: the Word became flesh. That is God’s greatest gift to us.
Speaking of gifts, I always seem to do “last minute” shopping. I remember going to Macy's to buy my sister a gift. I said to a saleswoman: I’d like to buy a good perfume for my sister. What do you have? She placed a beautiful bottle on the counter. I said: how much? The reply: $200. I said: I would like to see something cheaper? She showed me another: that will be $150. I said: perhaps you don’t understand. My sister only expects a “token” gift. I want to see something cheap. She handed me a mirror. The saleswoman was obviously from New York City, my hometown.
Some of us may be stressed out from holiday shopping and wondering if a so-called “perfect gift” is really what someone needs or wants.
Marian Wright Edelman, the children’s advocate and author, wrote that the best presents she received as a child were not wrapped in pretty boxes or found under the Christmas tree. From her father, she received the gift of a love of reading. For him, books to improve the mind were more important than buying toys. From her mother, young Marian received a passion for children’s rights. Her mother asked her to share her childhood room with a child whose own parents weren’t able to care for her – this was one of nearly a dozen foster brothers and sisters her mother raised. And from a neighbor, young Marian received the gift of courage, not to be afraid when something important or good just had to be done.
Marian Edelman writes in her autobiography: “I carry with me and treasure the lessons in life my parents and caring neighbors gave me throughout my childhood. And may these memories give me the strength to give a child a true gift – time spent with them, time spent sharing some of the great lives of mentors who have enriched, informed and helped shape my life.”
The point is that some gifts really can transform the lives of people: gifts of teaching, of listening and supporting, of sharing time and experiences, of compassion and forgiveness and affirmation.
And this kind of gift-giving begins in our own families and workplaces and communities. They are enduring gifts that we can always give to one another: gifts that can transform lives.
Now back to Christmas and the phrase that magnificently sums it up: The Word became flesh. That single line changed our destiny forever. Christmas means not simply God in Bethlehem of Judea centuries ago, but God within us.
We carry within ourselves Emmanuel, God with us. How? By virtue of the life-giving waters of baptism.
We gather to proclaim the awesome Word of God, to celebrate the presence of the living Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine, in this liturgy. For we are by grace what Jesus Christ is by nature: sons and daughters of God, heirs to the kingdom of God, called to live a god-like life.
And that great truth of our faith, God within us, ought to challenge us always to be a good finder: someone who looks for the good in themselves, looks for the good in other people and looks for the good in all situations in life.
And who is the ultimate good-finder. God so loved us that he became one of us. Jesus Christ is that good-finder.
This Jesus had a unique relationship with the God of ancient Israel. He was one with God. He is a God-man. A healer, a teacher, a peacemaker. Think of all the people in the Gospels that Jesus met: the blind, the leper, the lame, the sinner, the forgotten. And Jesus found goodness in all of them where many didn’t.
The promised Messiah has come, He is in our midst mystically in the word proclaimed and the sacrament celebrated, and He will come again in glory at the end-time.
In the meantime, let us be grateful for God’s immense gift to us: a baby born like ourselves.
And let us pray this Christmas season that the Lord will help those who doubt to find faith; those who despair to find hope; those who are weak to find courage; those who are sick to find health; those who are sad to find joy; and those who have died to find eternal life in God.