LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
I have invited a guest blogger here today. I hope you enjoy Fr. Michael Cambi's Christmas homily as much as we did. To read Fr. Cambi 's Sunday homilies check out the sidebar for his dedicated page at Let It All Start Here.
Ah the Christmas Story ... it is at once beautiful, incredible, inspirational, magical, and in many respects, unbelievable. Of course, by unbelievable, I merely mean, hard to believe ... I do not mean impossible.
We call it the Christmas Story, but it is no fantasy. It is, instead, a fantastically true story, about how our God came into time and space, to reveal himself to us through a face, and in the person of Jesus Christ, save the human race.
I haven’t been a priest for very long, but already, it’s become a challenge each year to figure out, how to preach the Christmas story from a fresh perspective, from a different angle, since it is so familiar to us all.
This year, I got a little help from my friend. Last week she told me a story, that surprised me a little bit I suppose, but saddened me infinitely more so.
Turns out that in some schools, our children are being taught something, about that little baby boy over there, whose birth we celebrate today. What’s that you ask? Well, that he grew up to be a great preacher, only to die tragically on the cross, and we don’t really know anything more about him.
Sisters and brothers, fellow believers in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: I’m not about to preach politics on Christmas Day, but I must say, that if this version of history, is what our children are learning as the story of Jesus, it is our gravest duty and obligation to teach them otherwise!
That’s not the story of who Jesus was ... not even close! THIS IS....
Our Triune God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, though perfectly complete and content in Godself, desired to share love, beyond their own three-in-one communion. Humanity is fruit of that desire.
In order to communicate that desire, and reveal to us its meaning and purpose, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of God, the only Son of the Father, emptied himself of unbounded glory, and bound himself in a human body, taking flesh of the Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, is true God and true Man, fully divine and fully human, from the moment of his conception, and remains so eternally. He was born into the world on Christmas Day, but did not begin his mission to reveal God’s love, until he was about thirty years old.
He was put to death three years afterwards. That means that for over ninety percent of his life, he lived in virtual anonymity and obscurity. Does that mean most of his life was a waste? Of course not! It’s actually the first lesson he gives us, about life in this world.
God desired to begin his life in the flesh, as the tiniest of children: a fertilized egg in the womb of his mother. He desired to spend nine months there, preparing to be born. He desired to be a helpless infant, wholly dependent on two human parents for everything. He desired to grow up learning from them, respecting them, obeying them, helping them, and loving them.
He was trained in carpentry by St. Joseph, to be a productive member of society, not living in isolation, but in relationship, with extended family members and neighbors, in a small town community, where people lived together, worked together, worshipped together, and relied on each other.
So the first lesson then, is that human life, at every stage of its existence, from the very first moment of conception, is of inestimable value. Because he lived every moment, from that first moment, Jesus Christ, God and Man, sanctified every aspect of human life, elevated its dignity, and empowered us to live it well.
He showed us that living it well means living it humbly, simply, selflessly and sacrificially, not primarily for one’s own good, but for the larger whole ... be it family, neighborhood, faith community, world.
Or as St. Paul says it, we are to reject godless ways and worldly desires, and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, eager to do what is good. This is how God wants us to be in the world, without being of the world.
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise, whom the prophets foretold. He is Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace, Son of the Most High, Son of God. And when John the Baptist had sufficiently prepared his way, Jesus left the shadows of Nazareth in Galilee, and went public.
He was indeed an extraordinary teacher and preacher, but oh, so much more than that. His audiences felt his power, saying he spoke with authority, and not as their scribes. That power was the divine authority wielded by his words. His words delivered teachings and revealed truths, yes, but they also altered reality.
They controlled natural elements and supernatural forces alike. His words changed water into wine. They cast out demons from the possessed, and hurled them into swine. They rebuked storms in such a way, that folks exclaimed, “Who then is this, whom even winds and sea obey.”
Jesus is the Divine Physician – a healer of body, mind, and soul. He fed multitudes of people from only a meager amount of food. He cured every kind of ailment and affliction, even those borne from birth, which was theretofore, unheard of. He raised people from the dead, back to life.
He forgave sins, restoring those spiritually lost and broken to wholeness, changing their lives forever. And when folks began murmuring about this forgiveness business, saying, “Who but God alone can forgive sins,” and accused Jesus of blasphemy, he responded like this.
“That you may know, the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth” – he said to the paralyzed man, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. All were astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
What kind of man could do such things? Jesus asked his disciples what they thought, and Peter proclaimed the incredible truth, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus affirmed this identity in John’s Gospel, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No comes to the Father except through me.”
So he is not, just a memorable preacher and teacher, who inspired people 2000 years ago, and then died a tragic death. He is the only begotten Son of the Father; He is God. And there is no other name under heaven, by which we are to be saved, than the name of Jesus.
Not Mohammed, Buddha, or Jehovah; not Ghandi, Deepak Chopra, or the Dali Llama; not Oprah, Dr. Oz, Joel Osteen, or Joyce Meyers; nor any other preacher, guru, or life-coach you can think of. PAUSE
Most importantly, Jesus Christ is the sacrificial lamb, the Eternal High Priest, the author of our salvation. His desire and power, to forgive the sins of all people, for all time, realized its pinnacle of perfection, in his supreme act of selfless, sacrificial love, on the cross.
And friends, that’s no tragedy ... that’s his victory ... because three days later the tomb was empty ... for He had risen from the dead in glory, having vanquished sin, suffering, and death, forever.
How do we know, this is the ‘more to the story’ so many secularists in society set aside? Well, because we walk by faith, and not by sight. But it is not a blind faith based on ignorance or naïveté; rather it is an informed faith, in harmony with reason.
The Bible is as reasonable and reliable a document, as any other source of its time. And with the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, handed down alongside Sacred Scripture, the body of evidence convinces, in my humble opinion, beyond a reasonable doubt.
The scriptures report eye-witness accounts of the empty tomb, and of real encounters with the risen Jesus, one of which included a gathering of more than five hundred of his disciples. And John’s Gospel admits, only a fraction of such encounters were actually written down.
The apostles were transformed, from cowards hiding in fear behind locked doors, to courageous preachers, healers, and miracle workers, and continued as such, to their own violent, but joyful deaths.
St. Paul changed from the most determined persecutor of Christianity, hoping to destroy the faith, to its most zealous and ardent evangelist, founding new Christian Churches all over the Middle East and Asia Minor.
Through the centuries, tens of thousands of men and women have given their lives to God and Church, in ways that have given us models, of what it means to be faithful, to be holy, to be witnesses, to be disciples, to be saints.
For over 2000 years the Church has simultaneously suffered the cross of perse-cution, while expanding throughout the world. It continues to grow and flourish today, despite the drastic decline of regular churchgoers in the West.
Jesus is our Eternal High Priest, because the offering of himself on the Cross, once in historical time, now transcends time and space, and is perpetually in our midst, being offered on every altar at every Mass throughout the world, which effectively means around the clock, to continue the work of our redemption.
Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom and Head of his Church. This is where he desires to be God-with-us, more than anyplace else in the world. This is where he nourishes us, where we quite literally, feed on him, most profoundly in our reception of communion, but also, in his Word proclaimed from here, and in our shared song and prayer.
Two details from the Christmas Story cannot be missed, for they are not accidental. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means, ‘House of Bread’. Upon his birth, Jesus Christ was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals.
The powerful truth behind these symbols was affirmed by Jesus himself. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” PAUSE
Sisters and brothers, the story of Jesus began on Christmas Day, but it did not conclude on the cross. In fact, the final chapter has yet to be written ... and it will be, when he comes again in glory. In the meantime, we are to add the chapters of our own lives to the story. How so, you might wonder?
Well, the very first and still the very best Christmas gift ever given, is Emmanuel, which means God is with us. Jesus Christ is the presence of God, made manifest to the world. For our part, we continue the Christmas Story, by living the Christmas message.
And so in addition to the presents you exchange at Christmastime, you must not forget to give the fullness of your love, which is the sharing of your presence with each other ... your gifts of time, attention, companionship, empathy ...
... a helpful hand, a listening ear, an encouraging voice, a shoulder to cry on, a forgiving heart ... given to those who need the hope and joy of Christmas all year through ... and who will know that God is with us, whenever they see, hear, and touch His presence ... in you.