The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
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….
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this….
God, could it be true? Could it really be true? That God himself was born as a tiny, human child a little over 2,000 years ago to save us from our sins–to fix the great mess of the world, to bring peace, and to bring us back to him in heaven? Could it really be true? Our faith tells us it is true. But sometimes our faith can falter. Our hearts whisper that it is true. But our hearts can sometimes break.
But that’s why he came, people. He came to have his heart broken so that ours might be healed. Let me ask you a question. When you really feel like you are going through an awful spot, whom do you like to talk to? Somebody who has never been through a similar struggle, or somebody who has walked a few miles in your shoes? Someone who is struggling with an addiction wants to share with somebody else who is struggling with addiction and defeated it. Someone with marital problems wants to share with someone else who has had marital problems and come out stronger. Someone whose heart has been broken wants to speak to another broken heart who has found a way to make it whole again. Shortly before he died, Jesus said to his apostles, ” I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He has been through the warfare that is human life, and he has come out on the other side. Let me offer you an image. Imagine the afterlife as a massive, awful wilderness full of wild beasts. On the other side of this wildnerness is heaven. Well, before Jesus there was no trail through the wildnerness. He was born into this world, he made a way through the woods, gave us ways to be protected from the beasts, and then opened the gate to heaven on the other side (which before his time had been LOCKED). Jesus is a trailblazer. He is a pilgrim, a wanderer. And we need to follow him down that narrow pathway to the other side.
But that journey has to begin somewhere. And in the spiritual life that begins with birth and baptism–and that is what we celebrate this evening. The BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY. The trees of the wilderness tremble with anticipation, for our great trailblazer arises to make a way for us.
That is why God was born in a manger 2,000 years ago. He was born so that we would not recoil from sharing with him everything that we are, were or hope to be. Jesus Christ would not be accused that he doesn’t know how it feels to be lonely, mocked, heart-broken, poor, confused or misunderstood. He would not be accused. And so he humbled himself and became one of us. Why be afraid to give ourselves to such a God? Why be afraid to come to Him with everything? St. Peter tells us, “Cast all your burdens and anxieties upon him because he cares about you.” (1 Pet 5:7). What our God wishes the most of all is that we give him our burdens. Didn’t he die bearing them? And yet for some reason I want to bear mine alone? We are such strange creatures…
Let me repeat what I said before: God, could it be true? Could it really be true? That God himself was born as a tiny, human child a little over 2,000 years ago to save us from our sins–to fix the great mess of the world, to bring peace, and to bring us back to him in heaven? Could it really be true?
1. Did you know that Jesus was born in a manger? And why might that be important for us as Christians? Because the one great act of Jesus’s life was to die on the cross and then give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. He died so that his death might nourish us. And when he was born it was in a box meant to feed animals? Do you think that this might be more than a coincidence? Or did you know that the word Bethlehem–the city in which Jesus was born–means “the house of bread”? And what did he do before he died but raise up a piece of bread and say “This is my body–eat this? And do it in memory of me”? Again, another divine coincidence? My friends, can your heart feel the plan of it all, the plan of salvation arranged from the foundation of the world? It is not a riddle to be figured out, it is rather a mystery that needs to be invited in–into the heart.
2. But despite that, God still gave us the power of the mind and gave us hints to indicate his presence and his plan. There were prophecies that existed for centuries that point to Jesus. It was Prophesied by Micah that the Lord will be born in Bethlehem. It was Prophesied by Zechariah that he would be betrayed by one of his followers for 30 pieces of silver. It was Prophesied by the psalms that he would be crucified and that his bones would not be broken, and the list goes on and on….
3. Christians by the thousands were beheaded, flayed alive and fed to wild beasts rather than simply burn incense to a pagan god of Rome because they were THAT convinced that what the apostles were saying about Christ was true, and what they were experiencing through the power of the Holy Spirit was very real. Christianity hit the world like a tidal wave, and it was almost snuffed out as soon as it began. We can’t forget that. We can never forget that.
Christianity–our precious faith–started in a manger with Mary, Joseph, and some frightened shepherds 2,000 years ago. And now we are a billion strong. Or are we all really strong? I doubt there are a billion strong. But do we really need a billion? Let’s not forget that in the beginning, it took the faith of one teenage girl and her struggling husband to found a religion that would become a billion strong.
There has been a lot that has happened in history that is not directly connected with this seemingly unimportant event in a cave in Palestine–a child born to some of the poorest of the poor 2,000 years ago in a faith that the Romans barely allowed to exist. And there has been a lot that has happened in our personal history that doesn’t directly have to do with our faith. But let me suggest the manger as an image. Where is the manger in our hearts? There is a very poor place in our hearts where innocence is kept alive, and a child cries in manger, and the mother of God sings a soft lullaby, and angels kneel in wonder…. It is a soft place, a quiet place, sometimes so covered in noise and pride and ambition that we can barely get to it… What has happened to it? It only takes one tiny ember to fan into a flame… And so where is that ember in our hearts? What event, what believe, what word–what beginning–what humble nativity can we return to, to give us the strength to journey from here into the frightening wilderness?
When I was praying the rosary on December 6, 1994, something happened to me that I still cannot explain. I heard a voice that said, “Teach my children,” and my life has never been the same since. And I followed a calling that led me here. It was my nativity, in a way. It didn’t give me all the answers, but in that night was a power that gave me a new mission in life.
This is a night to make things new. This is a night where promises come true. It is a night to set aside old grudges and old hurts. Do you know that one of the greatest gifts that you can give someone else–AND YOURSELF–is the grace of starting over?
There was once a set of twins who had a very alcoholic father. One twin drank and one did not. The first twin was asked, “Why do you drink so much?” and he said, “Because my father drank so much. That is why I drink.” and the second twin was asked, “Why don’t you drink at all?” And he responded, “I have decided not to drink because my father drank so much.” PAUSE
Do you get the message? Let’s not be held in bondage by what has happened to us in the past. What happened on this night two thousand years ago was meant to give us the power to be set free from such bondage. But have we tapped into such a power? Have we begged to be set free?
I would like to sincerely beg particularly you married couples to use tonight as a night to reconcile–it doesn’t matter who did what, or who deserves what, or who should make up first. People, just do it. When something new happens, it can break the rules. It can appear from nowhere. APOLOGIZE….
Do you know how much we insult the baby Jesus when we approach him and tell him that he can’t make our lives new again? He transformed the life of Mary and Joseph. He turned the Jewish religion inside out. He took over the Roman empire after all the Christians were nearly executed out of existance. He established a culture that would last for more than a millenium in Europe, he converted the country of Mexico almost overnight through Our Lady of Guadalupe, he established the oldest and most lasting organization in the catholic church under the pope of rome where we serve Francis the 266th successor of Peter, and you don’t think that he can make 2014 look new for you, and transform your heart from the inside out? If you don’t think so, you are the most arrogant and most powerful person in the galaxy to keep at bay such a god. So think again.
Find once more the humility of the manger that glows softly in your heart, and the lullaby of your virgin mother who longs to hold you again. For behold, he makes all things new again. Merry Christmas.