Friday, January 1, 2016

A Christmas Homily

In front of stores, leading up to Christmas, we see people next to red kettles and ringing bells. In West Bend, WI recently there was a popular miniature horse doing the same.  The money which the Salvation Army raised in this way provides a Christmas celebration for many who cannot afford one.  Thousands receive a special meal at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee and thousands who cannot leave home receive a meal delivered to them.  It's a beautiful tradition, but it doesn't compare to what God did.

Quoting from 2 Corinthians 8: 9, Pope Francis said: "He became poor, so that by his poverty, you might become rich."  The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity set aside his power and glory. He emptied himself and became poor.  The Pope said: "God's becoming human is a great mystery."  The reason behind it, he said, is one word--"Love."  It's a love that identifies totally with poor humanity.  He continued: "God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance."  God became poor.

In other words, the Son of God left his place not to become a bell-ringer asking for help, nor to become a servant, bringing meals to the hungry.  Rather, he became the one in need--in need of shelter when every door was closed to him, in need of safety when a wicked king wanted to kill him, and his family had to flee, becoming refugees and finding a home in Africa, in Egypt. He became the one in need of humanity's love.

This is what inspired St. Francis of Assisi to become "the Poor One."  It's what inspires all who understand the lengths to which God went to prove his love.

The Prologue of John's Gospel (1: 1-18), which is the Gospel used for Mass on Christmas Day, employs a chiastic structure.  Themes in the first verses are repeated in the second half of the passage.  This technique is designed to draw attention to the central verse or idea.  We often think this climactic verse is verse 14--"The Word became flesh"-- but it isn't.  The center of the chiastic structure of the Prologue is found in verses 12 and 13: "But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God."  

We are the focus here.  We are the reason for Christmas.  You and I are the focus of God's attention and love.  God took flesh, became one of us, and shared in the human condition, so that we could become children of God.  God stooped to our level and shared our poverty so that we could rise to God's level and share in the richness of divinity.  As the Collect Prayer at Christmas Day Mass goes: "O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it, grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."  

This is only possible through grace. Verse 16 is: "From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace...."  The grace of God's covenant with the Chosen People is now superseded by the grace of a new covenant meant for all people.  Emptying himself to become one with humanity, the Divine Son has united himself with every human person.  The Second Vatican Council document "Gaudium et Spes" #22 puts it this way:  "For, by his incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man."  

And so we, the baptized who have been born of God and are truly his children, now try to live and love as Jesus did.  Inspired by his total self-giving love, we strive to empty ourselves of self-interest and to put our attention where God put it--our God's other children, our brothers and sisters.  

We do this when we give them the greatest gift--time.  Without time, we have nothing else.  When we run out of time, we come to the end of our lives on earth.  Time is God's gift to us and we show our gratitude by giving time to God and to our neighbors.  When we pray, we share God's loving concern for friends, relatives, and all people, including our enemies.  In our Daily Offering we pray for their ultimate well-being as we offer ourselves with Jesus who continues to offer himself to the Father in the Eucharistic celebration.   Though our offering may seem poor, it is made rich because it is joined to the perfect offering of Jesus.

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