Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A
December 23, 2001
Is 7:10-14; Rom1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24
1) Christmas is now just a couple of days away and we are in our immediate preparation for this great day. What we will “get out” of Christmas this year will be proportional to what we put into it, how we prepare ourselves, what are attitudes are as the day approaches are arrives. Today’s readings are a great help for us. We could focus on various aspects of them, but what I want to do is to focus on the two names we find there. For God, names are always very important. They sum up a person’s mission and a person’s identity. In the case of the Son of God made man, they tell us about his mission and identity. So we will focus on his name Jesus and the prophecy that he would also be called Emmanuel. But we’ll approach the homily like a game of jeopardy. Jesus and Emmanuel are the answers. Now we need to focus on the questions.
2) The most important question for us to ask ourselves today is WHY? Why did the Eternal Son of God, the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, take flesh of the Virgin Mary in the first place? Why did he who was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords allow himself to be born not in a palace which might at least be a symbol of his true importance but in what was probably a filthy cave full of animals? Why did he take as his first bed a trough, a manger, from which animals eat? Why did he who created all of the heavens and the earth and every single one of us choose to come into this world, only to be neglected by inn-keepers even before his birth, ridiculed by the wise of the world over the course of his life and beaten, spit on, cursed, whipped and ultimately executed by crucifixion? He did all of it for YOU. “For us men and for our salvation,” we profess each Sunday in the Creed, “he came down from heaven and by the Power of the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.” He did it for us and for our salvation. His name, Jesus, which we receive in today’s Gospel, means “God saves.” That means that what we celebrate at Christmas is much more than an historical event. What we celebrate this week is much more than simply a commemoration of Jesus’ 2005th birthday. What we celebrate at Christmas, more than anything else, is the fact that the Son of God came down from heaven to be born in a stranger’s cave and buried in a stranger’s grave for US, to save US. And so every single one of us is very, very much involved in that great event in Bethlehem, because Jesus was born there for us.
3) And this cannot but lead us to the most amazing thing about this event. Why did Jesus do all of this for us? Why did he come to save us? He did it because he LOVED us and wanted to spend eternity sharing his love with us. “God so loved the world,” we read in St. John’s Gospel, “that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him might not die but have eternal life.” God loved us so much that he sent his only Son into the world as a man to save us so that we might spend eternity with him. This brings us to the name prophesized in Isaiah and fulfilled in Christ: Emmanuel, God is with us. God wanted to be with us here on earth and forever in heaven. The magnitude of such an act of the love of God sometimes can get lost when the faith becomes routine, but as we prepare for Christmas we should look at it square in the face to see the love behind it. God first didn’t have to save us and didn’t have to come to be with us. When Adam and Eve sinned, God could have destroyed all of creation and all of us. But he didn’t. He could have allowed all of us to die and spend eternity dead and out of his presence. Or God could have decided to destroy the whole human race and start again. Any of these solutions certainly would have been simpler. But instead God decided to take on human nature himself, be with us as a God-man, and save man as a God-man. As mind-blowing and awesome as that was — a condenscension much greater than if we out of love for our pets decided to empty ourselves of our human nature and become dogs or cats — he didn’t just decide to come into the world and save us in triumph and in glory: his humility and his love for us went all the way. He loved us so much that he emptied himself of everything, even things humans would expect for themselves, so as not to lose any of us. He was with us in everything situation of poverty, of suffering, of abandonment. He was born in a grave among animals, hunted down by Herod while he was still an infant, and harassed, tortured and killed, so much did he respect our freedom, even in bad choices, even in our making choices against him. But in dying for us he destroyed our death. He loved us so much that he took on flesh of the Virgin Mary out of love for us so that he might die for us to save us from our sins. He took on human life so as to be able to give that human life for us, to die for us so that we might never die eternally. Not even the greatest poets and novelists in history could have possibly imagined such great love. And he did it for you! He did it for me! He did it for each of us here!
4) Faced with this reality, we’re forced to another enormous question, that makes this feast much, much more than a commemoration on an event 2000 years ago, but something crucially important for each of us right now. How much must I be loved if Jesus accounted my life even more important than his? What should my response be to such great love? How can I possibly ever thank him for giving his life for mine?
5) Last year at the high school where I’m chaplain, I invited some sisters young Capuchin Sisters from New Bedford to join us and I asked one of them to give a meditation to the students on the meaning of Christmas. And what she said really moved the students to appreciate the real importance of Christmas and what they should do in preparation for it. Christmas, she noted, is certainly Jesus’ birthday. Well, how many birthday parties of your friends and siblings do you go, she asked, when YOU receive all of the presents? At a very simple level, Christmas is not our birthday; It’s Jesus’ birthday. But too often too many of us, particularly younger people, look at Christmas as a time for them to receive gifts rather than give gifts to others, most importantly to Jesus. Too many older people look at Christmas as a time to give gifts to almost everyone except Jesus. But Christmas is principally Jesus’ celebration, in which all our eyes are supposed to turn toward Him and not toward dolls and toys, race-cars, play stations, gift certificates, new clothes and so many other things. Many Christians lament the “commercialization” of Christmas and preach loudly about it. I actually think that there are many, many good elements about the reality of buying gifts for others and receiving gifts from others. I think there’s something very spiritually helpful about receiving gifts from Santa or others that one did not earn. This helps us to appreciate all those things that we receive from God that we did not earn, like the beauty of the earth, like our life, health, rebirth in faith, and so many other things. Likewise, I think it’s great that people sacrifice in order to buy things for others, especially kids. But as good as these things are, they’re not the reason for the season of Christmas. Christmas is not just about being nice and kind to others, but it is principally about Jesus. He is the reason for this season. So this Christmas, as we go about giving and receiving gifts, each of us must be provoked to ask ourselves, “What should we GIVE to Jesus this Christmas?” And that’s the most important gift of all.
6) Well, most of us here in the parish have come across the difficulty at one time or another of getting a gift for a person who seems to have everything. Well, what could you possibly give to GOD that he doesn’t already have? He created all of the heavens and the earth, the mountains, the seas, the sky and is perfect in himself. He doesn’t need anything at all. He doesn’t even NEED us. He didn’t create us because he needed us, but he created us for another reason, because he loved us and wanted us to share in his love. But although he doesn’t need anything, he does obviously want something for Christmas from us, something that perhaps he doesn’t already have. He wants US, all of us; he wants whatever we’ve been holding back from him all of these years. Some of us hold back so much from him and give him so little of our time and our attention. Others try to give him more, but always maintain something for themselves. They say to themselves, as long as I go to Church every week and try to keep the commandments, that’s all I really have to do. God wants more. He wants each of us. He wants all of us. And he wants us all.
7) When Jesus came, the vast majority of people had no idea. In Bethlehem, which he would make extraordinarily famous to this day, there wasn’t even any room to receive him. He was coming to save them, but they had no room for him. This Christmas, Jesus comes again. Will we be like all those others who go about our business with him on the periphery? Will have have room for him in the inn of our hearts and souls. Will be respond to his coming out of love to save us by allowing him to do so, which means giving him the gift of our lives, which he originally gave us? Jesus is truly coming; let’s go out to meet him in joy, in the very Eucharist, in which we receive that very same body and blood which he took from the Blessed Virgin Mary 2000 years ago.