A Homily for Christmas Day

Offered to the glory of God and with thanksgiving for the faithful of this parish.

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

About one year ago I entered a church in Bethlehem, joined a long and winding line of people, and eventually walked down some stairs and into a cave. Then when it was my turn, like millions of pilgrims before me, I bent down and kissed a stone, said a prayer, and set off on my way again. The church was the Church of the Nativity and the cave is the very place where tradition says that our Lord Jesus Christ was born.

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” You see, this is the Christian hope. Not that God would whisk us away somewhere, away from the pain and suffering of a broken world, as much as we might wish for that to be true after a year like this one. But rather that God himself would come down into the depth of earth, being born of a woman, taking on real flesh-and-blood. Just like us. With us who are sitting in darkness and wondering what on earth has happened, wondering where on earth (or in heaven) is God. We cry out with the prophet, “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down!” (Isaiah 64:1).

Well, he doesn’t rend the heavens, but he does come down, in a much more unexpected way—being born and filling the world with light and life from within. And the “He” that comes down is the Word, that Word that was with God in the beginning, that was God. The Word through whom all things came into being here now, in a manger. Vulnerable, young, dependent upon his mother and adoptive father. Here now, to be touched, held, loved.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness overcame it not.” John’s point is clear as day: the power behind the entire universe, the power that created and sustains all things at every moment, is not an unknowable cosmic force, but is rather a real person who can be known and loved. Do you want to know who God is? Do you want to know what His love looks like? Simply gaze upon the face of Jesus Christ who is, “the brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of his person,” (Hebrews 1:3).

Wherever the Holy Spirit makes Jesus present there is light and life. Which means, at the very least, that darkness and death have an expiration date, a point beyond which they cannot venture. Darkness and death cannot and will not have the final say, because in this lowly infant child the very light and life of God has come bursting into the world and changed it forever. Not from without but from within. 

Where is the world in need of light and life? Where is our own community in need of such things? Let us pray that the Holy Spirit would make Jesus present there. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit would birth faith in the hearts and minds of those that remain in darkness, and in the dark corners of our own hearts as well. 

After all, this story isn’t just about one person in one place and time—the infant Jesus in Bethlehem all those years ago. Whatever else John has to say, he wants us to know that this story is for everyone, everywhere, at every and any time. It’s the story of the creator God acting in a new way within his much-beloved creation, through his much beloved Son, renewing all things and making us his much-beloved children.

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his Name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Being born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus becomes our brother according to the flesh in order that we might be born again according to the Spirit. The hope of the gospel, the hope of Christmastime, is that something can happen in this life to make us new people. This Christmas, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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