Christmas Day Homily 2021
Seeing And Hearing Anew
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the communion of the Holy Spirit, and the joy and peace of Christ’s holy birth be with you all.
For a second consecutive year, we are celebrating the Christmas feast during the covid-19 pandemic. We have some of our community assembled here at St. Ignatius Church, and we also join with all those who can share our celebration online. We pray for healing of those suffering because of the pandemic and indeed for an end of this long trial.
United with Christians all over the world on this holy day, we joyfully proclaim glory to God on high and peace to his people on earth along with the angels at the birth of Christ.
In my homily today, I will ask some questions about the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ so that we may pray more deeply about the Word made flesh for our salvation.
The first question is about seeing. What do you see? How do you see? Who is seeing and whom do you see? Here we are not talking about seeing with our eyes. As we contemplate the birth of Christ today, we have to use our imagination to see what is important. Many of us may imagine a scene in a stable, like the one on the Church grounds, or perhaps one in your own home. Thinking about this a little while, I began to note how I have seen this birthday of Christ differently at various times in my life. Both what and how I see has changed often. I think that others may also see this birth of the Lord quite differently over time.
When I was a child, above all I focused on the image of the baby Jesus in the manger. I suppose that it’s natural for a child to feel close to Jesus in that way. Jesus is still the center of this marvelous event for me, but others in the scene are there, too. Perhaps parents especially see Mary and Joseph and feel close to the joy and the pain of this wonderful birth that they experienced. We imagine them in a stable or a cave in Bethlehem because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7) This was indeed a poor and rough place for the baby to be born.
I also see Mary and Joseph as displaced persons. Because of the Roman Empire’s control of the territory, they had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register and pay their tax. (Luke 2:1-5) I think of the long, uncomfortable trip that they took. Jesus was born under difficult circumstances, in a time and place made necessary by the political conditions in the Holy Land under the Emperor Augustus. We also know the story of how soon afterwards the Holy Family had to escape from Herod and flee to Egypt. I see Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as a migrant family, a refugee family. (Matthew 2:13-15)
My next question is about hearing. Do you hear the angels singing about Jesus’s birth to the nearby shepherds? Luke describes the scene of angels singing about glory to God and peace on earth. (Luke 2:8-14) Or do you hear the noises of the animals in the stable? One sound that was certainly heard at that time was the crying of a newborn baby. There are many ways to try to understand how God has become man, how the eternal word of God became flesh. Certainly one of the most obvious ways to imagine this event is to hear the cries of the baby Jesus, just like any other baby..
Another way to listen to this mystery of the birth of Christ is to hear the silence. Imagine the awe of Mary and Joseph as they silently beheld the baby. This was truly an event beyond words. A silent contemplation of this mystery of God’s love for man expressed in the birth of this Child may be our best way of hearing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Another silent contemplation also leads us to a very special way of experiencing the birth of Christ. We can ask ourselves what did God see? What did God hear?
The Gospel of this Christmas Day Mass is not the familiar scene of the stable and the manger. (John 1:1-14) John tells us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The utter eternal silence in the loving community of the Holy Trinity before creation makes us ask what God foresaw, and also what creation would cry out, the groans of all creation that St. Paul writes about. (Romans 8:18-25) From all eternity God saw and heard a world in need of salvation, a world awaiting in hope. As St. Paul says: “For in hope we were saved.” The human race needs true life and true light. It needs a Savior. As John says, “The true light which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
God’s way of seeing and hearing the birth of Christ becomes our own: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
In silent contemplation, let us see what God saw and heard that Christmas Day.
David Wessels December 2021