Christmas – December 25, 2021
Welcome to Saint Peter’s Cathedral for this celebration of the birth of Jesus. Welcome to our faithful parishioners. Welcome to our friends and those of you are visiting with your families and loved ones. And welcome to those of you from other religious and faith traditions. You honor us with your presence and we hope you feel at home. A special welcome to so many of you who join us via social media and Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton for this timeless celebration that lies at the heart of our faith as Christians.
And thank you in a very special way to all of you who continue to work to keep us safe during these days that continue to challenge us and unsettle our peace: health care providers, first responders, teachers, essential workers as well as our clergy and parish staff and volunteers. You are all a blessing!
A few years when travel was a bit less complicated, I was fortunate to be in Italy with some of my family. One day, as we were driving south of Rome along the coast, we stopped to view a massive scene of the nativity of Jesus, situated in a cave-like opening in the rocky walls of the coastline. I describe it as massive not because of the size of the figurines but because of the scope of the setting.
The central figures of the scene – Jesus, Mary and Joseph – were easily found. The visual journey through the scene, however, proved to be something quite unexpected. It took us through miniature village streets filled with houses covered with laundry draped over lines with sausages and cheeses hung from the roofs of porches. Merchants were selling their wares. A baker was filling baskets with bread. There was a fruit vender and nearby a fisherman, landing a catch in a stream that ran through the village. Children were playing. Dogs were running. Women were visiting with each other while a group of men played dominos.
At first glance, it seemed to me that the village scene was somewhat disconnected from the sacred moment depicting the birth of Jesus. But as I reflected upon the miracle of the incarnation – God being born in time and space and taking upon himself human shape and form – the setting, for me, became a powerful metaphor for our lives and our need for a savior.
You see, when Jesus was born, he didn’t set himself apart from the ordinariness of human life – from family interactions – from work and labor – or from recreation and play. No, Jesus immersed himself in the human condition of our world, for all of its beauty and peace, its brokenness and pain, its sin and suffering. And he did so for a reason: to teach us how best to live – to provide us with a way forward in life – and to save us from being consumed with ourselves to lead lives that are selflessly focused on the well-being of our brothers and sisters.
Two years ago, Pope Francis offered a reflection on the meaning and importance of the nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus. Listen to his words. “Why does the Christmas crèche arouse such wonder and move us so deeply? First, because it shows God’s tender love: the Creator of the universe lowered himself to take up our littleness. … In Jesus, the Father has given us a brother who comes to seek us out whenever we are confused or lost, a loyal friend ever at our side. He gave us his Son who forgives us and frees us from our sins.”
“The nativity scene,” the Holy Father goes on, “shows God as he came into our world, but it also makes us reflect on how our life is part of God’s own life … It speaks of the everyday holiness, the joy of doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way, born whenever Jesus shares his divine life with us.
While the nativity scene that I described is a permanent fixture along the rocky coast line of southern Italy, the scenes that we build in our homes and churches don’t last very long. Christmas comes and goes and it may very well seem that nothing ever changes. But for those of us open to the power of God, that simply isn’t so! The truth is, in Jesus’ birth, something miraculous occurred that we need to embrace every day of the year. God accepts us. God forgives us. God loves us. And God fills our hearts with his grace when we are open to receive it.
And because of the depths of God’s love for us – from the poor shepherds who first journeyed to the manger, to those on the margins of our world and our Church today, to ourselves, for as perfect or broken as we may be – every life has value and worth. And we need to accept and live that reality as his followers.
Some might question how we can possibly come to know and feel the embrace of God’s love when we look to this broken world of ours and discover lives turned upside down by tornadoes in Kentucky while countries all over the globe are wrapped in the pain, suffering and uncertainty wrought by a global pandemic that has enveloped our lives for the past two years.
Years ago, I came upon these words that speak to that question and give life to the Christmas miracle. “He who desires to see the living God face to face should seek him not in the empty firmament of his mind but in human love.” Look, then to the simple things of life rooted in human love and ultimately in the saving grace of God, things to which we are all given access – families gathered together – a word of forgiveness – the smile of an aging parent – the embrace of a child – the kindness of a friend – the selflessness of a care-giver – the consolation and peace of the Eucharist that we share in this time of worship and prayer.
These are the blessings that reveal to us the presence of the living God in our midst and that give us reason to hope.
Brothers and sisters, God’s light does indeed shine brightly this day. And it will pour into our hearts if we are humble enough to admit our need for a Savior and, in turn, generous enough to follow the pattern of Jesus’ life in love and service of our sisters and brothers. In so doing, we will discover just how blessed we are and the true gifts of this great Feast!
God bless you and Merry Christmas!