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12/25/18 Christmas Homily - Fr. Reggie

Christmas Day Homily

St John wrote his Gospel towards the end of his long life, and wrote for two different audiences. Primarily, he was thinking of people coming from a Hellenistic (Pagan-Greek) background. Secondarily, he was thinking of his fellow Jews.

By calling Jesus the "Word of God made flesh," John wields a term familiar to both groups, but he gives it a shockingly new meaning.  For the Hellenistic Greeks, "Logos," here translated as "Word," referred to the one, unifying force that linked together and put order in the entire cosmos. For Jewish readers, the phrase "Word of God" meant the wisdom of God, often personified in the Old Testament, which informs and directs all his works, including the creation and sustenance of the universe.

St John uses those understandings of this term as a starting place, but by identifying Christ with "the Word," he takes the concept to a whole new level. In proclaiming that through the Word "all things were made," he reveals that the Hellenistic concept of Logos as a cosmic force had missed the mark. The unity of the cosmos, its order, beauty, and glory, is not drawn from some impersonal force within itself, but from a transcendent, personal, creating God. Then by asserting that "the Word became flesh," he challenges his fellow Jews to broaden their conception of the Messiah from a merely human king to God himself taking on human nature.

On Christmas day, the Church offers us this tightly-packed biography of our Savior: all of God's infinite power and majesty wrapped in a few strips of swaddling cloth, sleeping helplessly in his mother's arms; this is Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, come gently to walk by our sides.

 A recent convert to the Catholic faith tells of his first Catholic Christmas.

He had been a born again Christian who thought that the Catholic Church was a distortion of true Christianity.

But during his junior year of college, he spent a semester studying overseas, in Italy. 

Somehow, he obtained front-row tickets for the midnight Mass with Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

This college kid had never experienced anything on earth as glorious as that Mass. The entire basilica was lit with heavenly light; the Sistine choir filled the vast space with angelic music; the magnificent artwork - hundreds of statues, mosaics, and colored marble columns - shone and glittered with unearthly illumination; the ritual itself, with the gorgeous vestmentsclouds of incense, moments of reverent silence, the Pope's exemplary devotion, and the thousands of faithful kneeling in adoration of the newborn Lord - every detail of this magnificent liturgy flooded his soul, opening up a whole new spiritual world.

As he was walking back to his dorm after Mass, he passed some homeless people huddled against buildings, shivering in the cold.

The contrast between the beauty of the Mass inside the basilica and the poverty so evident just outside the basilica's doors disturbed him.

He queried the priest who was instructing him about this contrast.  "How can the Church be so lavish at midnight Mass, when there are destitute people right outside the door?" he asked. The elderly priest could have pointed out the simple fact that no organization does more for the world's poor and sick than the Catholic Church, but he wanted to go deeper. So he responded by asking a question of his own: "What are we celebrating at Christmas?" The young man answered, "God becoming man to save us from our sins." "Well said," the priest commented, "Welcoming the arrival of the Word of God is surely no reason to hold back our joy." That's what Christmas is all about. Not the end of life's sufferings, but the dawn of true hope given by Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh.

 Today Jesus will come to us again in the Eucharist.

Just as he came into the world on the first Christmas, quietly, gently, helplessly, entrusting himself to Mary's care, so he comes to us in Holy Communion, quietly, gently, helplessly, entrusting himself to our care.

God wants to rule our hearts, because he knows that he is a better king than we are.

But he is not a tyrant - he won't force his way in. Instead, he invites us, he reaches out to us, he trusts us, he makes himself weak so as to become our strength. Whenever we receive him in Holy Communion, he looks at us with the same generous and eager eyes that he used to look at his mother Mary on the first Christmas. He wants to conquer the world, but he refuses to do it alone. He wants to gi ve forgivenesshope, and meaning to everyone around us who is suffering and searching, but he refuses to do it alone. Instead, today, just like 2000 years ago, he puts himself into our care. He entrusts us with the task of bringing him into the world. Not because we're so great, but because he is so great that he lets us share his all-important, everlasting mission.

He is glad that we are here today to celebrate his birthday, and he is hoping that we will give him the only present he really wants: our renewed commitment to spread the Good News of salvation to everyone around us - a commitment that we fulfill in our everyday activities, through our way of lifewords, and works.

He is eager for us to give him that gift, because he loves us without limits, and he knows that if we give happiness to others, we will receive much more happiness ourselves.

 

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