Saturday, December 25, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Christmas Homily

Readings: Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-4; Jn 1:1-18

There are two levels of meaning in the Christmas story. The first is the story of Jesus’ human birth; this is recounted in the Nativity narratives in Matthew and Luke’s gospels. They tell of the trip of a young couple to Bethlehem in Judea, finding lodging only in a stable where the young woman gives birth to her first child. The second level of meaning comes from John’s gospel, especially in the passage we just heard. This gospel tells us that this is not just a human birth like any other; this is a divine event. The very Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. This small, seemingly insignificant child reveals the glory of the Mystery of God. This is value beyond all telling. This is the greatest event that could ever happen.

Our task is to hold those two levels of meaning together and intermesh them. Now the first we can easily understand and handle. Everyday—somewhere in this world of ours—there are still young women who are giving birth in stables or even worse dwellings; there are young couples having a child in poor circumstances. We can understand that. The second level of meaning is a lot harder to encompass and much more difficult to relate to the first level: that this humble birth is actually THE message that the Mystery of God, the source of all creation, wants to tell us. That message is contained in this small child’s birth.

The only way to combine these two levels of meaning is by an act of faith. The intellectual distance between the two levels of meaning can only be spanned by an act of trust that is infused with love. The very meaning of Christmas sees the birth of Jesus Christ as a free gift of God’s love, although the full depth of that love would not be revealed until Easter and the Resurrection. It is the act of love which holds together the two levels of meaning in the Christmas story, an act of love that becomes an act of faith.

Faith stands as the hard thing for many to come by today. An intriguing article appeared in last Monday’s USA Today newspaper (Dec. 20, 2010, A1). It said that 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas, but only 60% see a religious meaning in the day. For one in three Americans Christmas is a yearly occasion to visit the family, exchange gifts with friends, to eat and drink...often to excess. Nothing more. Even for those for whom the day does have a religious meaning, the exact content of that meaning is not always very clear. People get no help from the general culture. Christmas in United States society is increasingly becoming a secular holiday. Fewer and fewer crib scenes are evident. They have been replaced by Santa Clauses, who are everywhere. Advertising programming never uses a religious carol. The advertisements hint openly that it’s almost an obligation to give gifts. Of course, that’s something driven by pure commercialism. The very definition of a gift is something that is freely given.

Our challenge this Christmas is to appreciate and proclaim the Christian faith dimension of the feast. The first faith dimension affirms the intrinsic and ultimate value of each and every human person. The proclamation that the very Mystery of God became flesh in a small child, born to relatively unknown parents in an out-of-the-way part of the world testifies that every human being has ultimate worth in the eyes of God....and should have in ours as well. The second faith dimension of this feast is the primacy of love over everything else in our world. It is the love of God that bestows the very gift of God’s presence in the birth and life and death of this little child. Every single one of us is loved and valued in God’s eyes. That’s what we proclaim this Christmas feast. Let’s celebrate it!

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