Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Vigil: Is 62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17 22-25; Mt 1:18-25
Midnight: Is 9:1-6; Tit2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
Dawn: Is 62:11-12; Tit3:4-7; Lk 2:15-20
Day: Is 52:7-10; Heb1:1-6; Jn1:1-18
1) The most important question for us to ask ourselves tonight (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?
2) 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. That means that what we celebrate tonight is much more than an historical event. What we celebrate tonight is much more than simply a commemoration of Jesus’ 2000th birthday. What we celebrate tonight, 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. 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 night (day). Why did Jesus do all of this for us? Why did he come to save us? He did it because he LOVED 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. The magnitude of such an act of God sometimes can get lost when the faith becomes routine, but tonight (today) we should look at it square in the face to see the love behind it. God first didn’t have to save 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 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 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 confront some enormous questions, that make 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) This past Thursday at Bishop Connolly High School, where I’m chaplain, we had an Advent prayer service. 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. So this Christmas each of us is provoked to ask ourselves, “What should we GIVE to Jesus this Christmas?”
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) This Christmas Jesus stands at the doors of hearts knocking, hoping that as we go to Bethlehem, we like the Magi, will open up not just our coffers of gold, frankincense and myrrh but our hearts to him. He wants us to do more than open up our wallets to buy presents for others, to be generous in supporting the Church. He doesn’t want principally things or money; he wants us. He wants our hearts. But he designed the door to our hearts with only one handle on it — on the inside. Only we can open it. Jesus is at the door of our hearts, right now, knocking. But he loves us and respects us too much to ever knock down the door. We need to open the door from the inside so that Jesus can come in. That’s the first step. Some of us have been keeping him outside the door, just like the inn-keepers 2000 years ago who never made enough room for him, even though he had come to save them, ultimately dying for them so that they might live. Like the inn-keepers 2000 years ago, some of us can reject Jesus. “Get out of here, Jesus, we don’t have room for you!” We can get so caught up in the million-and-one things we think we “have” to do so that when we hear the knock on the door we just say, “No vacancy,” “my life is full,” “no room here,” “get out of here.” Some of us, on the other hand, let him in the door. None of us would be here tonight if we hadn’t at least responded somewhat to the invitation of God this Christmas to let him in. But, let’s be honest, too many of us let Jesus in, but only let him stay in the living rooms of our lives, those parlors where everything is tidy, nice, and presentable. But Jesus doesn’t want to remain just in our living rooms. He wants us to take him into our closets, into our cabinets and drawers, into all of those rooms which we’ve locked, which are dark on the inside, which we’re tried to hide from people for years. Jesus wants us to take him into the messy and hidden areas of our lives. He wants us to let him into every room of our interior house, so that he who is the light shining in the darkness may illumine those rooms and illumine our lives with a light and a peace that only he can give and which no one can ever take away. As he said at the end of the Bible in the Book of Revelation, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and remain with you, and you with me.” And tonight he’s doing that with the soft knock of the tiny hands of a newborn baby.
8 ) And Jesus is willing to do anything for us so that we might be able to open that door and say yes to him wholly and entirely, holding nothing back, giving him our lives, giving him our hearts, giving him our trust, giving him our love. He emptied himself to come among us as a man, taking on the human form and being born in our likeness, St. Paul tells us. But he went even farther than that. Toward the end of his life, he who was born in a manger, a place from which animals were accustomed to eat, said that he would become our food. Jesus abased himself so much that not only did he take on human flesh and blood but gave us his flesh and blood to eat, abasing himself to take on the mere appearances of unleavened bread and wine. He took on a body to say, “This is my body… given for you,” not just in his whole earthly life, not just on the Cross, but every week, every day in Holy Communion. The Jesus who comes down on this altar in a few minutes is the very same Jesus who took Mary’s flesh within her womb, is the very same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem on this holy night (day) 2000 years ago, is the very same Jesus who died on the Cross for us and rose from the dead. We not only have the chance tonight to worship Jesus from the outside, by kneeling in adoration before the Crèche, but we have the extroardinary grace to worship him from the inside, taking his very flesh and blood within us. What a grace! And he’s done it all out of love for us. He loves us that much. He loves us so much that he gave his life for us. The only response worthy of such love is love in return, our giving ourselves back out of love for him, for us to say, “Jesus, this is MY body, this is MY life, given for YOU.” Tonight (today) we can do that. Tonight (today) we can say yes to him, to putting him first in our lives and living everyday the reality of his life and of his love, so that one day, we may rejoice with the angels in hearing forever the words for which he created our ears in the womb at the beginning of our lives, “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace on earth to those on whom His favor rests.” His favor is meant to rest on us. All we have to do is open the door and take him in. Those little hands are still knocking.