“Once upon a time there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug. He wasn’t a Scrooge. He was a kind and decent person, generous to his family, upright in all his dealings with others. But he didn’t believe all that stuff about Incarnation which churches proclaim at Christmas. And he was too honest to pretend that he did. “I am truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, who was a faithful churchgoer. “But I simply cannot understand this claim that God becomes man. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
On Christmas Eve his wife and children went to church for midnight Mass. He declined to accompany them. “I’d feel like a hypocrite,” he explained. “I’d rather stay at home. But I’ll wait up for you.”
Shortly after his family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window and watched the flurries getting heavier and heavier. “If we must have a Christmas,” he thought, “I suppose it’s nice to have a white one.” He went back to his chair by the fireside and began to read his newspaper. A few minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. It was quickly followed by another, then another.
He thought that someone must be throwing snowballs at his livingroom window. When he went to the front door to investigate, he found a somewhat dazed flock of birds huddled together in his yard. They had been caught in the snow flurry and in a desperate search for shelter had tried to fly through his window towards the light, heat and shelter. “I can’t let these poor creatures lie there and freeze,” he thought. “But how can I help them?” I know, I’ll get them into the barn where it’s dry and warm.
He put on his coat and boots and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the door wide and turned on a light. But the birds didn’t come in. “Food will lure them in,” he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs, which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail into the barn. To his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around and waving his arms. They scattered in every direction - except into the warm lighted barn.
“They find me a strange and terrifying creature,” he said to himself, “and I can’t seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me. If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety. . . .”
Just at that moment the church bells began to ring. He stood silent for a while, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. Then he sank to his knees in the snow. “Now I do understand,” he whispered. “Now God, I see why You had to do it.”
We gather here at Mass this morning because we too have some understanding of what the Christmas message is really about. We recall that, from the beginning God, who is total goodness, longed to create us on whom he could pour out and share his greatness, his beauty, his happiness, his blessedness and glory. In doing so, he fashioned us in his image and likeness. But He did not stop there; for in the fulness of time God himself became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man. The God in whose image and likeness we are made is now made in the image and likeness of his beloved people - a solidarity in the flesh and an incredible mystery. After all that is what mystery means - the inability to express and explain what we are encountering. Yet without words we are brought to that place deep within where reason and rationality can’t make their home. When we gaze on the crib, and focus in particular on the child lying in the manger words fail and only mystery remains … we are drawn in and a connection is made at the very depth of our being. There lies the babe in silence ... warm and content but as yet he makes no demands, as yet he issues no challenge. The crib is the place, as Psalm 85 reminds us, where “Love and faithfulness meet; justice and peace embrace. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. God the Father has indeed given us what is good in fact he has given up his divine privileges; he has taken on the humble position of a servant and is born as one of us.
But what does this event mean to the world 2000 years on? What does this event teach the modern world that is weary and worn from natural disasters, diseases and war? Firstly, it serves to remind us that our world, when left to its own devices, quickly becomes so dark and so hopeless, that God himself is compelled to enter it and remain within it in order to transform it with his light and his peace. Secondly it serves to remind us that there is another way; and that is to imitate the example of Christ who chose to be in the world and for the world but not of the world. Thirdly, it serves to remind us that it was for us and for our salvation that he came down from heaven - we are His chosen people amongst whom he is pleased to dwell - that we are called to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood a people set apart to be an example of love and honesty, of justice and peace; a remedy, if you will, for the worlds troubles and a sign of contradiction to its demands. Simply put, we are called to follow and imitate Him who is the way, the truth and the life. Yet, today the Word is silent and His silence in the crib, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminds us, is a sign “that he is waiting - waiting for us to move out toward Him - waiting for a new, a willing and a generous yes.” His birth in Bethlehem was not and is not enough … he awaits your yes, so that he can be born within you and as a result through your eyes, your hands and your feet can bring blessings to the world. In this way, as Pope Francis recently related, the presence of Christ within each one of us will give our life a new dynamism … a necessary dynamism.
When the Christian life is lived with conviction, it is automatically dynamic ... never dormant … never self seeking and never introspective. Neither is it static, or repetitive to the point of staleness. Although the Christian message never changes, it is always new. The Christian life is dynamic - positive in attitude, joyful in disposition, full of energy and always interested in seeking new ways of communicating the joy of the Gospel. Yet, even the most dynamic Christian life cannot live for long without being nourished and without taking care of itself. In fact, the Christian cannot live without having a vital, personal, authentic and strong relation with Christ. Any seriously minded Christian that does not nourish themselves frequently with that food will become a shoot that dries up and little by little dies and eventually falls away. Daily prayer, participation in the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation, daily contact with the Word of God and a spirituality that translates into lived charity are the vital nourishment for each one of us. May it be clear to us all this Christmas season that without Him, as St John reminds us, we can do nothing (Cf. John 15:8). With him everything is possible. My dear friends, let us not wait until January 1st to make the usual fragile resolutions - but today, as we stand and pray in front of the crib and ponder the mystery of God among us let us repeat the selfless ‘Yes’ of Mary, welcome him in and allow him to transform our very being.
Blessed indeed be the Lord, the God of Israel!
He has visited his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up for us a mighty saviour just as he promised
The loving-kindness of the heart of our God now visits us in the flesh like the dawn from on high.
This little child, will give light to those in darkness, to those who dwell in the shadow of death,
And, if we let him, he will surely guide us all into the way of peace.
Múlier, ecce fílius tuus, Totus Tuus! Fergal