Christmas Homily Year C 2021
On a warm Sunday morning, in they came, into the church where I was serving. Both in their early 20’s caring a new born baby. Young, beautiful, vulnerable, untouched by the cruelties of life, smiling at me. No one noticed them… just part of the group coming for Mass… but I did. I knew her… in an instant because I knew her as a 7 year old… keeping watch over all the other kids… a mother hen… protector… and strong. Tears fell from my eyes… when and how did this happen… when did she become a woman… where was that little girl that made me laugh each Sunday so long ago. Her boyfriend…in tow an unknown to me but in love with her, quiet… didn’t say much and probably thinking, ‘why was this priest in tears!’ Because God was standing before me in this little unknown family.
Year after year at Christmas we hear the same story, the Nativity of Jesus Christ proclaimed in our churches. And it always begins in the same way: “Now this is how the birth of Jesus took place…This is the way, no other way, and we don’t mind-in fact, we like it that way because it is a beautiful story about God and us and a crazy mixed up world. So it is that the Christmas story unfolds. “Now this is how the birth of Jesus took place.” And each year those few words sound so promising, almost like, “Once upon a time…” But as the story unfolds, things fall apart, and it’s more like a fractured fairy tale, not at all neat and uncomplicated. There is Mary’s unexplained pregnancy, Joseph’s sense of betrayal and his decision to put her aside, then an angel’s reassurance in a dream; you know the rest of the story so well – an uncomfortable journey for a census, demanded by tax-greedy Romans, not a room to be had, and God’s Son ends us being delivered in a cattle stall; and very soon visited by two extremes of population (the poor shepherds and the regal magi); and then these three will be refugees fleeing to Egypt. And yet, this is how the birth of Jesus God’s only Son took place.
Year after year we hear this story but moment after moment, this story keeps unfolding and revealing itself to us. The revelation of Jesus is ongoing in so many countless ways. Jesus is born into the brokenness, the mess and inconsistencies and ambiguities of our lives, our smelly flesh and asks quietly, “May I dwell there?” And as the angel spoke to the shepherds, so he speaks to us, “Do not be afraid. Instead, go to the low stable of your weakness and you will find me waiting for you there.” You see the Christmas story is after all harsh, full of struggle, with the shadow of the cross falling over it. Jesus enters our world anonymously, quietly, born to insignificant parents from a nowhere town because that is how God wants to enter our lives… not 2000 years ago, not in the future… but here and now and in us!
Here we are in the second year of a pandemic that still has a firm grip on all of us. Our churches are less full… our circle of friends shrunken, social distancing and masks have become the norm and basically, we have been turned upside down. However, we must trust the upside-downness and not give up, always hoping, turning things over, and discovering the trust and the beauty of God.
Like that little family that touched my heart, Mary and Joseph, not married, with the infant Jesus in tow welcomed God into their hearts. Each and every moment of our lives, God invites us to make room for God. God wants to turn things over and show us beautiful opportunities for God’s grace in the messiness of our lives. “This is how the birth of Jesus took place:” God places a child in our midst and says, “Here I am – in the smallness of your reality.” May we continue to open the stables of our hearts… and welcome Godin his countless disguises…not just today, but every day of our lives.