December 24 & 25, 2023 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 9: 1-6 + Psalm 96, + Titus 2: 11-14 + Luke 2: 1-20
We no longer walk in darkness. We can see, and we can be seen. Even though we might prefer to sleep in heavenly peace and ignore the reality of what is going on around us, while we hum “Joy to the World,” we may not forget the historical context of this birth story. It was a gloomy world with suffering people valued only for their labor and the taxes they had to pay. It is a story of people, refugees, fleeing a dangerous tyrant, people who are homeless, sleeping on the street. This story we tell from the past is not quite over. We can tell it today with the same details as we read it in this Gospel.
In more than 55 years as a priest, I have sat and stood through more Christmas pageants than any of you could ever imagine. One of them that stands out in my mind was in the Cathedral Church in Oklahoma City years ago. There was an elaborate scene painted on a set that went from pillar to pillar across the church in front of the altar. It was worthy of a movie set. When the homeless couple knocked on door marked: “Inn” just in case you didn’t know what it was, an 8-year-old opened the door, scowled at the couple, pointed to the side, and slammed the door. At that point the entire elaborate scenery collapsed.
Later, when reflecting on what inspired that innkeeper’s response, I began to wonder how and why the Innkeeper often seemes to be refusing hospitality when in fact, I have often thought he was just about the nicest person of all. He did the best he could with what was at hand. He saw a need and he responded. I think that this little moment in the story teaches us a lesson we have easily missed for way too long when it comes to believing the Incarnation. There is more to this spectacular moment that changed all creation than just the birth of a baby, shepherds and magi.
Distracted by gifts, commercials, lights, trees, and Saint Nick, we have missed the truth and the real mystery of this Feast. The proof of that for me came just last week when a reader came to the ambo and started the General Intentions by saying: “May God bring peace to the middle east.” All of a sudden, I got it. It was clear to me that we have not yet grasped the truth of Incarnation. We want God to do what God has already done through the Incarnation, the birth of his son.
God is not going to bring peace. We are. God has already taken on human flesh and through his Son taught us how to make peace by forgiveness. God is not going to feed the hungry or protect the homeless. We are. He taught us how to do that. That Innkeeper got it right. He was responsible for someone he didn’t even know because they were in need and were children of God. What we might experience this Christmas is a deeper and more personal understanding of what has happened to us and all creation because of what we recall and celebrate today. This is not just about the birth of Christ. It is also about who and what we have become because the Word became flesh. We need to go deeper and ask, “Whose flesh?”
Everything is changed, everyone one of us is changed and charged with the Divine power of love. It displaces selfishness, loneliness, and the destructive individualism of this age that isolates from each other. It removes the helplessness we often feel in the face of this world’s destructive condition with the conviction that we can do something. We can care, we can act. We can forgive, and we can love. It’s not complicated. This great feast is about us as much as it is about a baby born in Bethlehem because, that baby ultimately gave us his flesh to eat so that this divine love might be found in us. When that old prophet cried out: “Comfort Ye,” God speaks to us all with a plea to comfort one another inviting us to become like the God who now dwells about us as close as the person beside you.