Christ Our Life | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the Nativity of Our Lord, Dec. 25, 2007 | From the November 2007 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review
The Nativity of the Lord | Christmas Mass at Dawn—December 25 | "C" Readings: Isa. 62:11-12 | Tit. 3:4-7 | Luke 2:15-20
Title: God dwells among us: God's love takes flesh
Purpose: To explain the gifts of Christmas: (1) God's greatest gift to us, his Son; (2) our gifts in return: faith, dedication to others, imitation of Christ's life.
The Christmas season is a unique time of the year. There is no other celebration during the year that is quite like it. It is a happy time that centers on God, love, friendliness, family and friends. Just think of all the preparation and expectation connected with Christmas. There is the writing and receiving of cards, decorations in homes and stores, the colored lights and the fresh, green trees. There is much travel of going home for Christmas to be with one's family and friends.
There are more songs and music about Christmas than about any other celebration during the whole year. Thus, surrounding the birth of Christ there is much emotion, affection, embracing and kissing, and other expressions of love.
The dominant theme of Christmas is love and mercy—the love of God for man that calls out to us for a response. For, God's love for us is so great that he became a little baby at Bethlehem two thousand years ago, born of the Virgin Mary and protected by St. Joseph, his foster father.
Why did God do this—become man? He did it from love to save us from sin and death and to offer us eternal life and happiness by believing in him and living a just and moral life. Because of this Christmas gives rise to sentiments of hope and joy. To forgive sins and to give eternal life is something only God can do. And that is what Jesus Christ came into this world to do for all mankind.
Jesus of Nazareth is a human being just like us, born of a human mother, but at the same time he is God Almighty, Creator of the heavens and the earth. So God who is spirit and invisible to human eyes in Jesus become visible and located in time and space in Israel two thousand years ago. Jesus is both human and divine—he has a human nature, taken from his mother Mary, but he is not a human person. He is a divine Person—the Word (see John 1), the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. This is a great mystery and can be affirmed only in the light of faith.
Jesus is Light and Truth who reveals to us the truth about God, man and the world. He said it himself: "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Jesus is our great God and Savior, as St. Paul puts it in his letter to Titus.
Christmas is the happiest time of the year for several reasons. Because it is a season permeated with love, we experience God's love for us, and in imitation of God's love we are motivated to show love for others. The greatest happiness in this life comes from loving others. Why is that? Because God made us out of his love and for love. He made us for himself and we know from St. John that God is love—that is his very nature. And we experience a touch of that at Christmas time.
When we show love for God and love for neighbor, then we are doing what God made us for, what God made us to do, and when we do that we experience true joy and happiness. Christmas helps us to do that, and that is why Christmas is such a happy time of the year. It is a time to rejoice and so we greet others by wishing them "Merry Christmas," which means "Rejoice," because Jesus has come to save us.
As believers in Christ we have hope of everlasting happiness. Through our baptism he has cleansed us from sin and by his grace has made us children of God and heirs of heaven. For those who fall into mortal sin because of weakness, he also gave us the sacrament of penance, by which one recovers the state of sanctifying grace.
When we look at the manger and consider who Jesus is—God and man—surrounded by Mary and Joseph, by the shepherds and animals, we should rejoice and thank God for this great gift and adore him from the bottom of our hearts, just as Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds did. May God bless you and may you enjoy a happy and holy Christmas with your family and friends.
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 464-478.
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Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., is author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.
He has been editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review for over thirty years.
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