Christmas Homily 2014

Homily for Christmas 2014
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

There is, every year at Christmas, this curious reality
that we celebrate Christ’s birthday by giving gifts to everyone else
– but not to the Birthday Boy himself,
not to the guest of honor, not to Jesus.

When we think about whom we need to buy for at Christmas,
most of us don’t add “Jesus Christ” to the list.

The closest we come would be the gifts we buy and give,
the checks we write, to provide a joyful Christmas for those, who,
for all kinds of reasons,
can’t provide a merry Christmas for themselves
or for their own families.

And in addition to falling short on bringing gifts to Jesus,
on his birthday,
many of you might come to his stable as I do:
I come to the stable hoping Jesus will have something for me,
something wrapped and tagged, To Austin, from Jesus…

Of course, he invites us to do just this.
Jesus was born into our humanity, our flesh and blood,
precisely to give himself to us, to empty himself out for us:
to be broken for us, as a loaf of bread, to satisfy our hunger;
to be poured out for us, as a cup of wine, to slake our thirst.

He came to us in the dark of night, to be our light.
He came to us in obscurity, that we might find him in every place.
He came to us as a helpless child, to meet us in our vulnerability.
He came to us as one like us,  that we not miss him.
He came to us in poverty, that we might know he came for all.
He came to us and suffered, that in him we might find all our hope.
Our hope 

I wonder if there’s any gift Christ has to offer us this night
more precious than the gift of hope.
And what is hope? 

Let me share with you how the Brazilian theologian, Rubem Alves,
answers that question.
He’s from Brazil
and you’ll pick up a South American agricultural reference
in what he wrote…

What is hope?
Hope is the presentiment
that imagination is more real
and reality is less real
- than it looks.

Hope is the hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress us
- is not the last word.

Hope is the suspicion that reality is more complex
than the realists want us to believe;
that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual;
and that in a miraculous and unexplained way,
life is opening up creative events opening the way
to freedom and resurrection.

But the two – suffering and hope – must live from each other.
Suffering without hope
produces resentment and despair.
But, hope without suffering
creates illusions, naïveté and drunkenness.

So let us plant dates -
even though we who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
- Rubem Alves

Alves’ words are thick with substance and dense with meaning
and may seem too much to digest on a Christmas eve.

But if we are to understand
who is the Child whose birth we come to celebrate,
if we are to receive the gifts he offers us;
if we are to grasp what his birth portends
for the hopes and fears of all the years
in the heart of each of us tonight;
if we are to grow as human beings
through Christ, with Christ and in Christ:
then we cannot allow ourselves to get stuck in the stable,
gazing on an infant’s face.

That’s the danger of Christmas.
We can so easily get stuck in the stable.
We forget that the stable was temporary housing
for the Holy Family while they were in Bethlehem.
Then it was back to Nazareth where life went on
and Jesus grew up and began to teach and it’s in his words
that we find our hope.

And what is hope?
Hope is the presentiment
that imagination is more real
and reality is less real - than it looks.
Hope is the hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress us
- is not the last word.

So my questions for us on Christmas Eve are these:
 “What is the hunch, the hope
that helps us weather the fears and trials of our life?
Is it Jesus?

What word, whose word is the one that leads us to hope
that the overwhelming brutality of our lives will not, in the end,
have the final say?
Is it the word of Jesus?

Do we live, indeed, by the love of what we cannot yet see
- but for which we hope?”   

If we are stuck in the stable, we have not seen it all.
No more than my birth or yours is the whole of our story,
neither is the story of Christmas the whole of Christ’s message.

The stable is only where it begins.
Christ’s story walks the path of truth,
the path of  healing,
the path of suffering
and the path of hope that is his gift to us.

And Christ’s story leads us far from the stable to this table
where once again, as he did 2,000 years ago,
Jesus offers himself to us as a gift, in his Flesh and Blood
in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist.
In him, and in him alone,
let us find our hope this Christmas Eve.


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