Saint Francis of Assisi Parish, Castle Rock, Colorado
Isaiah 62, 11-12 + Psalm 24 + Titus 2, 11-14 + Luke 2, 15-20
Through all the details we are given regarding the birth of Christ there are people whose lives are changed in remarkable ways. The cast of this great drama is large. It begins with an angel named: Gabriel who is very busy going from the Temple in Jerusalem then on to Nazareth. Then look at how the cast of characters is arranged. First there is Zachariah and Elizabeth, a faithful couple advanced in years. Then there is the youthful Mary, a single woman, and Joseph a single man. There are Shepherds, and soon the Wise Men, or Astrologers or “Kings” as some translations call them. Like every really good story, there are good guys and bad guys, and so we get Herod, the villain. There is a constant interplay of light and darkness, day and night. The night, when things are usually fearful and dangerous becomes the time of salvation. The darkness is overcome by the light of a new day and the song of glory.
Something happens to everyone of these people, and a story develops around each one of them that reveals something to us about the meaning of the Incarnation, the meaning of the Word Made Flesh. Zachariah and Elizabeth thought to be too old are suddenly young again, at least young enough to bear a child. The reproach of barren Elizabeth is lifted. Her respect and dignity among those people who looked down on her is not only restored, it is elevated and honored as those who judged her see what God can do. By her willingness to step into the mystery of God’s will Mary makes real, gives flesh, and reveals beyond doubt that anything is possible with God. Joseph, a carpenter whose plans get shaken by dream takes this whole mystery into his home forever marking a family and a home sacred and sacramental. Shepherds leave their flocks and take on a new role. They are the first to evangelize as they run to sharing the news. The wise men come with their gifts only to be gifted by the presence of the giver of all gifts. Or call them “Kings” and what we see is that they bow down in respect to this new King rather than having others bow to them. The infant who has nothing gives them light and guidance in a pilgrimage into the mystery of God’s presence. Yet there is also Herod, already a ruthless traitor who has sold out his own to secure the favor of Rome lives in darkness and denial becoming all the more ruthless, cruel, and violent. He alone is not changed by this birth. Set in his ways, centered on himself, threatened by what he cannot control, he stays as he is and never knows what might have been possible. Stuck in his comforts, power, and political games, he never sees the light, and never knows the joy freedom brings.
As you begin to reflect on all of this and these people, the focus of this day can begin to shift slightly, for this story and the mystery it unfolds is not only about the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also about the people who, in fath, acknowledge this gift and are then drawn into the story and the mystery of the Incarnation. Christmas, the Birth of Christ is about us, and it is about what happens to us.
If someone were to ask Zachariah, Elizabeth, or those shepherds what difference the birth of that child meant to them, they would be quick to tell you. Perhaps we should raise that question for ourselves: What difference does all of this make in our lives? How are we different because we know and believe what has happened to us?
In his book: Jesus of Nazareth Pope Emeritus Benedict asks that question. Since the birth of Christ there is still suffering and sin. He was not able yet to put an end to wars or to violence. Benedict gives us a profound yet simple answer: “Jesus came to bring us God.” Suddenly, the kindness and generous love of God is visible and unmistakable to those who would come to him and see.
Because of the birth of Jesus, God is never far from us. God is as close as the person sitting beside you. God is at our side in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. We discover and we believe that God suffers with us and has suffered with us through all the tragic and violent events that mark these times. God rejoices with us and forgives us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us! The wonder of this day is what has happened to us. The wonder of this day is that the divine life, grace, the divine gift of presence has been born again. Our belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God is confirmed by the birth of Christ. What we do, who we are, how we act, how we think, must reveal something of God. Those we meet, those with whom we work, live, and play must know something of God because of us. This is the miracle of Christmas.
There is a reason that we were all called here this morning while the day is new; just as there was a reason that the shepherds were called to the manger and the Wise Men were drawn to Bethlehem by the star. God wants to speak to our hearts. God aks us to stop striving after what cannot fully satisfy us. God says: “Stop trying to make it on your own.” The power and wonder of this day puts our focus on Christ. God would have us keep our focus on Christ every day, and find in him true and lasting joy. As evangelists we share that joy with others as the shepherds did. This draws us into the mystery of this day and reveals the meaning of Christ’s birth. It makes every day blessed, holy, and joyful. The Glory of God is the glory of God’s people, you and me whose lives make a difference for others because the birth of Christ makes a difference for us.