December 25, 2022 at St Agnes, St William, St Peter the Apostle Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 62, 11-12 + Psalm 97 + Titus 3, 4-7 + Luke 2, 15-20
We proclaim this Gospel and celebrate this Christmas in an age of uncertainty and controversy. Some in the church believe Pope Francis has taken the church off the rails while others think he is the answer to prayers completing the promises of the Second Vatican Council. Meanwhile, in nearly every country there is a political crisis than never seems to go away no matter who is elected. There is corruption and distrust over serious questions about the future of our planet and the ability of institutions to resolve conflict and stop violence.
Today’s Gospel suggests that similar uncertainties rocked the ministry of Jesus from the beginning. John the Baptist, the greatest man born of woman according to Jesus, had doubts about whether he had identified the right person. He promised someone who would separate good from evil, baptize with fire and wind. He sat in a prison hearing that Jesus was offering forgiveness and mercy to sinners and welcoming outcasts and foreigners. We are not told if John ever understood and died confident that his mission was fulfilled. What we do know is that in uncertainty and in the midst of controversy God blesses history with what it most needs at any given time.
Hindsight has allowed us to resolve the contradictions and uncertainty found in the Christmas story. Who in the world at that time would have believed that a child born in a cave or stable would amount to anything? Who could imagine that a child with parents who were migrant immigrants fleeing murder and violence would have anything to say to the world? Who could ever guess that man from a town hardly anyone ever heard of would go about proclaiming God’s justice and love before being crucified as a criminal would today be celebrated like this as Savior of the world?
We would, and we have. In believing, imagining, and guessing all these things, we have also affirmed that God is a source not of happiness, but of Joy. The promises of God are the bedrock of our existence. The promises of God are the reason we get up in the morning. Whatever happens to us in this world with all its contradictions, turmoil, controversy, and uncertainty can never stop our journey’s end or keep us from revealing God’s glory.
Our celebration on this day does not deny or hide the inconsistent life we lead or our sometimes-faltering faith. What it does reveal is that in spite of what might seem like our uncertainty we do know where we are going and who we are going toward. All we have to do is pay attention to how God works in all of human history, acknowledging that never has God failed to create from chaos not just at the beginning but even now.
We come here like shepherds a little dirty from our labor, and like magi getting lost now and then and needing directions. We come here like John the Baptist even with our doubts looking to Jesus for an answer. We come here like Peter, James and John, not exactly sure where we’re going, and sometimes not too sure it’s where we want to go. We come here like those women on Easter morning full of sadness only to discover real Joy. We come here like those frightened cowards locked in an upper room set on fire by a vision of the mission entrusted to us.
This day we rejoice. This day we look past anything that might discourage us or allow us to think that we are alone because Christ has been born and now God is with us in the flesh and in the blood of his Son Jesus Christ. With all the hope the message of this Gospel holds for us, I wish you peace and hope that whatever in your lives might be broken will be healed bringing you into lasting Joy.