Changed by the Babe in the manger

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The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas): Dec. 25, 2013
Mass at Dawn
Isa 62:11-12; Ps 97; Tit 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20

Last night, at Midnight Mass, we heard some of the central events of that first Christmas Night.

  • How the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of a government census; and there was no room for them in the inn; and so Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid him in a manger.
  • And how, not far from there, some shepherds were keeping the night watch over their flock. And then they were surprised by the appearance of an angel, who declared to them the news: that today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And then the multitude of angels, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

And all of that was a bit of a shock: unexpected light shining in the midst of darkness! What a surprise! What joy! It is a special, beautiful moment, there in the middle of the night.

But now, in this Mass at Dawn, we see that the news is sinking in.

  • The shepherds aren’t just going to sit on that hillside stunned; no, naturally, they say, Let’s go see this!
  • And soon they are getting together with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, and all of them are sharing with each other: Mary, sharing the gift of the Newborn King; the shepherds, sharing the news of the angels and what they had said.

And as the shepherds gaze upon this newborn infant, they know that, as the angel told them, he is Christ and Lord. What is before their eyes is something amazing and unimaginable: the almighty God of the whole universe, whose power and holiness they know well as faithful Jews, now having humbled himself to enter our world as one of us; Jesus Christ, true God and also true man; lying as a baby in Mary’s arms or in the manger, the feeding trough for animals. It is as St. Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians (2:5-7):

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…

The wonder of this gift of himself, this humility, has been expressed in this recent song reflecting upon the meaning of it all (“How Many Kings,” by Downhere):

How many kings stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me.

This year, the world has been quite taken with our new Holy Father, Pope Francis.

  • We have seen his humility, choosing simple clothing, a simple car, simple housing, and often eschewing security measures to walk right into the middle of crowds of people.
  • We have seen how he reaches out, through interviews and surprise personal phone calls; and especially how he reaches out to touch unexpected people, such as when he washed the feet of the young Muslim woman on Holy Thursday, or when he embraced the man whose skin is so dramatically disfigured by disease.

In a world crying out for personal connection, for love, for healing, the example of Pope Francis has gripped our sight and warmed our hearts—so that even Time Magazine and others have named him “Person of the Year.”

But where does he get that from? As a recent article in the Washington Post explained, it’s all because of Jesus. “Like Pope Francis?” it asks. “You’ll love Jesus!” It is Jesus’ humility, Jesus’ healing, Jesus’ love, that Pope Francis is following. And it is Jesus that he is pointing to.

And so it must be in our lives. We look upon the baby in the manger, and we are warmed and renewed; we look upon our Holy Father dressed in white, and we are warmed and inspired. But it can’t stop there; it needs to go further. This gift we receive from God doesn’t get packed up and put away on Dec. 26; no, like Scrooge resolved, we need to honor Christmas in our hearts and keep it all the year!

And so let us imitate those we have seen, who were moved to act by the birth of the Christ child:

  • Like the shepherds, let us go to see this thing—coming to Mass every Sunday, to see this same Lord Jesus who offers himself every time.
  • Like the shepherds, let us gather together with others of the faithful, to share with them the gifts the Lord has given us and to receive what the Lord has given them.
  • Like the Virgin Mary, let us reflect upon all these things in our hearts—reading the Christmas story in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, and reflecting upon the truth of the Incarnation in the Creed and the Catechism.
  • Like Pope Francis, let us put this same humility and love and generosity into effect in our own lives.
  • And, like the shepherds, let us share with others the good news that we have received.

What should Christmas mean to us? How should it change us? One of the Pope’s fellow Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, answered this question years back when he wrote:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

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