Sunday, December 25, 2016

WHAT WE CELEBRATE: a homily for Christmas Day (John 1)

As usual you can hear the homily here
I remember one Christmas day as we were having breakfast my mother heard a child crying and when she went outside there was a young traveler boy just outside our front door.  He had hurt his ankle and could not walk.  It was bitterly cold and he had only a thin jacket and shorts on while on his feet were a pair of wellys.   My mother brought him in and sat him down at our table.  She took the boot off the injured foot and checked it for any injury.  Once she had made sure he was ok, that it was only a sprain and she had strapped it up, she gave him breakfast.  I wasn’t too happy having a traveler sit at our breakfast table but the memory has stayed with me and its lesson: charity comes first and one never turns away a human being in need.   It was also a lesson in the real meaning of what it is to be a Christian.

Do you ever ask yourself what is this day that we celebrate?  Do you ever wonder what is this day about?  Why do we decorate our houses, give gifts and eat so well?   It’s an old tradition that the wood of the Cross was made from the same tree as was his cradle.  There is a truth in that.  Christ is conceived, born and lives in the shadow of the Cross that He will suffer and die on.  It means that this day is about what God has done to keep us out of Hell.  We are celebrating that God the Father has sent the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity into the world to save us from eternal damnation through His death and resurrection.   Or least that is what one school of theology says anyway and they are right but it’s not the whole story.  Being intelligent and discerning persons you have chosen to worship in a Franciscan church and in Franciscan theology the answer to our questions about this day is much richer. 
You see, God made us for Himself.  The Son did not become man for us because we fell but He created us for Himself so that He could become one of us and unite us to Himself forever.  He did this because of His own goodness and love.  Whether we had fallen or not He would still have become human, still have become the man Jesus for us.  We are made for communion with God and it is through Christ that all creation has its existence.  It is through Him that even the angels are preserved from falling.  It is through Him that every good thing comes to us: every grace, every blessing and every joy.  That our first parents fell into sin merely gave Him another reason to become one of us and, to go further, to show us His love for the Father and for us by dying on the Cross.
God could’ve just forgiven us but that was not enough for Him.  The Son became fully human for us and was born of the Virgin Mary but that was not enough for Him.  He walked and lived amongst us but that was not enough for Him.  He suffered and died on the Cross for us but that was not enough for Him.  God the Father raised Him from the dead but that was not enough for Him.  He unites us to Himself in Baptism and Confirmation but that was not enough for Him.  He remains with us, really and truly Present, body and soul, humanity and divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament that we receive at Holy Communion but that was not enough for Him.  He cleanses us of our sins and sanctifies us through Confession but that was not enough for Him.  He has sanctified Marriage and made it holy, and given us the Priesthood so that we could have Him in the Sacraments but that was not enough for Him.  He even offers us bodily and spiritual healing in this world but that was not enough for Him.  He has invited us to take the narrow way of faith into the Kingdom and into Eternal Life with Him and only that, only that is enough for Him.  Only if we are with Him forever in Heaven will He be satisfied.  Our salvation was the primary objective of His suffering and death and His becoming truly human and being born is the beginning of that work.  Without His intervention, without His grace we cannot attain salvation and are destined for the horrors of eternal damnation, cut off from God and without hope, without blessing of any kind, lost forever.  Through His birth as man we are offered a lifeline, a chance to be truly and eternally happy and at peace.  This is what we celebrate and this is why we decorate our homes, why we give gifts and feast so well.  We celebrate the greatest gift ever given: God has given us Himself.

Since He is so good to us, since He loves us so much how then ought we to respond?  What thanks can one offer the One who saves you from eternal death?   He has given us the answer: to believe in Him, to love Him and to love our neighbour, to avoid evil and to do good.  These are the simple steps that mean we are following Christ.  These are the steps to holiness, to eternal life.
If we are not seeking to be holy then we are not really Catholic.  By holy I do not mean ‘pious’ or ‘devout’; those are good things but not necessarily signs of holiness.  Holiness is being right with God and our neighbour.  To be holy is to seek the will of God in everything and that is not hard to know – just do the duties of your state of life while seeking to avoid evil and do good, to avoid sin and maintain oneself in a state of grace.  That’s it in a nutshell.  The greatest gift we can offer the Lord on His birthday is to seek to do the will of His Father. 

We have been given an infinite gift in Christ.  Like all gifts it must be unwrapped.  If we really know Christ then we cannot keep Him to ourselves but must share Him with others above all in the way we behave.  We will want to share Him with everyone, even the traveler, the immigrant, or the homeless at our door.  So this Christmas day do your best to share the good news that God has become man for us by how you treat those around you: point your anger away from others, try to be patient, kind and generous, forgive others and share with them the mercy God has shown you.

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