12/25/2017 – Christmas

On behalf of Fr. Cody and the entire parish and school staff of Saint Michael Parish, our prayers and Christmas blessings to each of you and to your extended family that may not be here with you this Christmas. It is so good for us to be here this holy night (this Christmas morning). Thank you for your presence. (I especially want to thank our children and their parents who have helped us with our Nativity Gospel and our sung prayer for tonight.)

At long last, especially for the children, we have arrived at the feast of the Nativity.

For many, many people though, this is a holiday, not a “holy” day.

This is merely the culmination of shopping, baking, cooking, partying, rushing around and preparations that will all will end tomorrow, (today) December 25 when the left overs are put away, the wrapping paper put in the recycle and everyone climbs into bed stuffed and exhausted. Some will be glad that they don’t have to go back to school, or if fortunate, work. For others, they are ready and raring to head out early for the “after Christmas bargains.”

Less than two weeks ago, I had a rather traumatic experience that caught me totally off guard.

I had been invited to a dinner in Bellevue with the folks who serve on the Alpha Board for the Northwest region. Alpha is an outreach and evangelization experience that can help change hearts and lead people to Christ. There is more info in our parish bulletin, so please take one home after Mass, or on our parish website, please check it out.

I arrived early because I wanted to beat the traffic, so I walked around the mall and went into a store called “World Market.” I had never shopped there before in my life, so I thought I would check it out.

I walked in and before I got 15 feet inside, I heard the music over the speakers and I stopped dead in my tracks. It was a blast from the past. It was the Jackson Five with Michael singing the lead on “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause.”

Not only was the music loud and screechy, but it really felt assaulting to me as I wandered around looking at all the holiday items – mostly useless “stuff.”

And if that was not enough, the next song I heard was “Santa Baby” by Madonna. I wanted to run out of the store screaming, “You don’t know what you are doing!”

Unfortunately that is far too often the experience offered people in our world today – holidays not holy days; “stuff” as gifts without recognizing and acknowledging “THE” Gift from God. (the Word made flesh who dwelt among us.)

In a thought provoking article on the Word on Fire Blog, Fr. Steve Grunow spoke of his favorite Christmas Carole, which is a far cry from the holiday music that assaulted my soul that night.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
Why little Lord Jesus, had come for to die
For poor ordinary people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

This Christmas carol begs the question of the “why” of the Incarnation. Why would the infinite God of the universe, of all creation, who is without beginning or end, choose to come to us, to die?

If Jesus had wanted for any old thing 
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing,
For all of God’s angels in heaven for to sing
He surely could have had it for he is their King

In other words, Christ could have had anything, but what he chose was to be born as a man, a human being like us. In choosing this, he chose to die, as will all of us.

The wonder of the carol is the startling revelation that the Lord’s decision to be born was also a decision to die for us – not because he had to but because he chose to on our behalf. He can to do what we could not and cannot do for ourselves. He came to save us from our sin, our brokenness, our illusions, our cruelty and the darkness and ugliness that our world can often be.

We “poor ordinary people, like you and like I” needed him to do it.

This is a sheer act of generosity because we are not deserving of it. The Incarnation is God’s act of total, unconditional love for us.

The wonder and mystery of Christmas begins at the crèche and ends at the cross.

This is what we celebrate this Christmas day.

This is why we are here. Not because it’s happy holidays; not because of Santa Clause; not because “every kiss begins at Kay’s; not because of mistletoe and gifts under the tree.

No. We are here because of what God has done for all of humanity and is doing for each of us. If we don’t acknowledge and in some way understand this mystery of Jesus’ sacrificial love, then we are wasting our time.

The best of Christmas carols express not only the mystery of Christ’s holy birth, but also the total event of the Incarnation. They are filled with insight from the early Fathers of the Church who co-related the events of Christ’s nativity to the Paschal Mystery, Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.

They profoundly understood how the wood of the manger foreshadows the wood of the cross; how the swaddling clothes represent his burial shroud; how being placed in a feeding trough pre-figured his feeding us with his Body and his Blood at Holy Communion.

Christmas leads us to Calvary. This is the true meaning of Christmas:

Jesus laying down his divinity, embracing our humanity, nailing our sin and inhumanity to the cross, sacrificing himself through his cruel death so that like him, we may rise to new life.

Nails, spear shall pierce him through
The cross he borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made Flesh
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

This is the deepest meaning of Christmas, the meaning that is so totally missed by happy holidays and “let’s have a holly, jolly Christmas.”

The shallowness of our materialist, consumer center culture, leaves us, on December 26th, empty, exhausted and deeply unsatisfied.

Yet our society and so much of modern religiosity rejects such truth, such mystery and wants nothing of self-sacrifice and dying to self in order to discover our truest, deepest, best self – the real gift of Christmas.

That is why Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us invites you through Fr. Cody and I to come to this (pointing to the altar) feeding trough each Sunday, week after week, to be nourished by the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, “born for to die, for poor ordinary people like you and like I.”

(“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son full of grace and truth…From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace…through Jesus Christ.)

May Christ be the best gift we both give and receive this Christmas day and every day of our lives.