Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Monday, December 25, 2017

2017 Christmas Eve Homily

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I would like to begin my homily this evening with a little story. About a week before Christmas, an elderly man living in Phoenix, Arizona, calls his doctor son in New York City. I called to tell you that your mother and I are getting a divorce. What?! Divorce?! After 55 years of marriage? What are you talking about, Dad?! 55 years is about 50 years too long. We really don’t even like each other anymore. We argue constantly and can’t stand even being in the same room together. Dad! This is crazy! I can’t believe this. Hold on, I am going to call my sister and I’ll get back to you. Sis! You’re not going to believe this! Dad just called to tell me that he and mom are getting a divorce! What?! That’s crazy! I’ll call them, then we better get down there as soon as we can. The sister calls dad back in Phoenix. Dad? What is going on? Dave just told me that you and mom are getting a divorce. This is just crazy, Dad, and besides, I am a lawyer.  Don’t do anything until I get there, until Dave and I get there. We are coming home on the next possible flights. With a big grin on his face, the man hangs up the phone and turns to his wife and says, “Well, dear, that settles it. The kids are coming home for Christmas, and they’re paying their own way!”

Welcome, Home!  Some of you have traveled quite a distance to be here tonight and this weekend. Some of you have been in a car or train for more hours than you wish to count.  Some of you live here in town, and many of you make this place your spiritual home.

The Christmas season seems to carry a lot of emotion and expectation about homecoming.  We hear songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays.”  I received a Christmas card that read: “Home is not necessarily where you’re from…it’s where people understand you.”   And Mark Twain reminds us that “Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” 

Many homes in ancient Israel included a central living area for the family, then perhaps a guest area for travelers and relatives, and then a sort of outer porch where the family would bring in the animals for safety at night, and for added warmth.  Such an arrangement does not exactly fit our concept of luxurious living, but it suited the purposes of the Israelites well enough.  Their wealth and their livelihood were in their animals, so of course, they would want them safe and close at hand during the long winter nights. Add to this household setup the fact that the words in the Bible that say, “There was no room at the inn” can also be translated as “There was no appropriate place in the house.”  

Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem to be counted in the census.  Everyone had been told to go back to their hometowns to be counted, so Joseph was joining a lot of aunts, uncles, cousins & various assorted relatives when he arrived with Mary at Bethlehem.  Perhaps there was no room for Mary in the house because there were so many other relatives already there! We know what that is like, do we not?!  How many of you are sleeping on the sofa, or in a sleeping bag on the floor, or on a foldout couch while you are visiting home for Christmas?  Sometimes there are just too many folks in town at the same time, and there ends up being no room at the inn for everybody! However it happens, Joseph and Mary are offered a place where Mary can at least have a little privacy for giving birth, a place that is warm and safe with the family’s animals, and close enough for relatives to help if it is needed.  

What a different image that is for us!  Mary and Joseph and Jesus, not off by themselves, isolated somewhere, but instead close to home, in a town where all of Joseph’s relatives either lived or were visiting.  Joseph, Mary, and Jesus all came home for Christmas, to the place where Joseph’s family had its origins. But even with the image of Joseph and Mary being home and close to family when Jesus was born, even as much as tonight we may long to be home, or be thrilled to be home, or be wishing that home was a more pleasant place to be, Christmas is about much more than physically coming home to celebrate with family and friends.

Christmas is a spiritual thing.  It is a God thing, and it is our chance and our invitation to Come Home to God in very powerful and profound ways.  Throughout the six-week season of Advent, we have talked about coming home to the spiritual values of Christmas, coming home to hope, peace, love, and joy.  All these values are greatly needed in our world right now, and probably greatly needed within our own lives.  They are spiritual gifts that the birth of Christ brings to us. But we must be amenable to and prepared for receiving them.

Christmas has no meaning if it is not centered on Christ. If Christ is not our focus at Christmas, then there is no hope and peace, or love and joy. There is no happiness or fulfillment. When Christ is absent from Christmas, there is no reason for celebration. When Christ is not born in our hearts, we have no home, we have nothing. We are filled only with longing and darkness.

More than the gifts of hope, peace, love, and joy, we need a real home; a place to belong, a connection, a purpose and meaning that lie far deeper than simply being in the right physical location.   We need and we long for a home that transcends the physical world and travels with us wherever we go.

I have heard many people say how different this Christmas seems to be.  One father’s statement was this: “Last Christmas we were wondering how to give our children all the things that money can buy: the hottest toys, the latest fashions, and the newest gadgets.  This Christmas we’re wondering how to give our kids all the things that money can’t buy: a sense of security, safety, and peace.” Yes, this Christmas is different. It is different because Christ has faded more from the feast, from the holy day. Christmas has become nothing more than a secular celebration during which people spend unnecessary amounts of money on gifts that have no meaning.

The home of Christmas is the Church. Christmas is not primarily or merely a celebration of the heart; it is, in every respect, a celebration of the Incarnation of God. It is not about giving material gifts and presents. It is about giving the gift of self, the gift of one’s life and love. These are the most precious and most valuable gifts one person can give to another.

The birth of Jesus Christ gives us the gifts of life and hope, of redemption and salvation, of peace and joy. Not even the most expensive or advanced smartphone, iPad, or 55” wide-screen television can provide the degree of happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment that a genuine and real observance of Christmas can provide.

In the Christmas story, we can begin to find the way to give our children (and ourselves) those important gifts that money cannot buy.  God comes to us in the complete vulnerability of a newborn infant and teaches us that safety and security are not the results of political power or firepower or military might.  God comes to us in a quiet manger scene and shows us that peace—true peace—does not come from victory on the battlefield.  True peace comes when we live in strong relationships with one another, and when we trust in the presence of God and in God’s protection.

The Christmas story is about what theologians call “The Incarnation”— God becoming a human being and entering our human world in a unique and powerful way.  God comes to us in a form we can understand: a baby, who will grow to be a young boy, and then a teenager, and finally a man; a man who will teach us and show us what real love and real sacrifice are all about. This is an amazing thing, this Godbecominghuman.  

Many religions in our world shudder and cringe at the thought of the Almighty, Transcendent, AllKnowing God coming to earth to dwell with us as a man.  That is making God too ordinary, too accessible.  It is like letting God move in and become part of the family and sleep on the foldout couch! But that is precisely what Christmas is all about.  

Throughout human history, we could not seem to be able to get to God, so God got to us.   God has come among us in an ordinary, family sort of way, in the story of the Nativity.  In the middle of our own families, in the midst of all the problems and secrets, sins and silliness, love and laughter and little joys of homehere comes God, moving in on us, as the newborn child Jesus.

The story of this holy night means that God is telling us, “I’ will be at YOUR HOME for Christmas. I will be in your home for Christmas, and in My love, you will find your true home, for now, and all eternity, with Me.” God has chosen to be with us, wherever we are, whoever we are, regardless of whatever we may have done.  When we are in relationship with God, and aware of God’s powerful presence, then we are truly at home: loved, held, embraced, nurtured, fed, empowered, cared for, forgiven, redeemed, and saved by the One who has given us life, by the only One who can keep us safe and secure, by the only One who can give us true joy, peace, hope, and love.

It is for this reason you and I are here this evening: to experience the real meaning of Christmas. To find our true home. To find the One whose love for us knows no bounds. To wait in joyful expectation for the Light that never fades. Christ comes to be born, and the Church rejoices and prepares to announce and proclaim this great mystery to the world. This is your home and my home. Herein we meet and encounter Christ in ways others cannot.

Welcome home tonight.  Welcome home to the presence of God.   Welcome home for Christmas.  


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