On this Holy Night, when Christ was born, we ponder the meaning of His unexpected arrival on earth. Jesus's arrival into our world marked a change; His birth is a watershed in human history. More than that, we believe that Jesus's birth is the most important event ever. His coming into our world, that is, Almighty God coming into our world as a weak, vulnerable and dependent child marks a departure from the way we think and tend to function. What does it all tell us about the way true and lasting change comes about? What does God convey to us about how true and lasting peace comes about?
From time immemorial, we humans have sought to bring about change through the use of force, domination, and whenever necessary, violence. Pax Romana was the rule of the day and firmly in place when Christ was born, the Hebrew people under the thumb and control of Emperor Caesar Augustus. The Pax Romana was an imposed and shaky peace based on keeping the people of lsrael in their place. The Pax Romana was an unstable peace reliant on creating victims and based on holding and maintaining power over and against others. The Pax Romana was a peace that could never last.
Then God entered this world with the announcement of something entirely new: an angel of the Lord came in the dark of night to marginalized shepherds struggling to make ends meet and of little account in the social order, and appeared to them as they were working in the fields, watching over their flock of sheep. The angel came to bring them good news of great joy! And the great joy they were entrusted with was for all people: 'To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, Christ the Lord. And, this will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." The question must be asked: What is the meaning of this "sign"?
The Child of Bethlehem represents a paradigm shift for the entire world, a paradigm shift in the nature of peace. The birth of Jesus as a baby in a manger of a stable, in an insignificant town far from home, to a peasant unwed mother from a captive people, contains a divine message for us tonight.
When the Prince of Peace is born, He does not come to rule as human powers expect. He does not exert His power through domination. He does not restore order through force. He does not change hearts through violence. Instead, He gently slips into our lives without imposing Himself upon mankind in any way. He entrusts Himself to us in weakness. He makes His way into our hearts through His poverty, dependence, and need. He brings down the mighty from their thrones through His quiet, humble birth.
The Infant King is not in rivalry with anyone anywhere. He is the embodiment of the work of the Holy Spirit, God made flesh. Jesus is not our rival or our adversary. God is born to us, comes to us with no strings attached. He comes to us without judgment. He comes to us transparent as a child, dependent as an infant, gentle as a dove, simply placing Himself in our hands. He comes in vulnerability and weakness. And, as children do, He invites us to get in touch with the value of our accepting and embracing our littleness, our weakness, our vulnerability, our dependence on God and on each other. That is why God put Himself into our hands. That is what Bethlehem was about. That is what coming as a baby is about. God was showing us the way to peace, to lasting peace, that has nothing to do with creating victims or finding our unity based on exclusion.
Christmas is meant to be our model for living. Christmas is meant to be the way to peace and salvation for the world. The God who loves us is a God who becomes vulnerable, dependent in the manger and dependent on the cross, a God who basically is saying “I love you with an everlasting love." I give Myself to you that you may have peace and joy, and that your joy may be full. My power comes through weakness; your power comes through weakness by allowing My power to sustain you.”
Tonight, we receive the gifts of the lowliness and power of God. The lowly Christ Child is the power of God that changes hearts, that changes the world and restores hope to it. The Child of Bethlehem leads the way to peace; it is the way of gentleness and humility.
Jesus shows us the way, saying: "Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your soul. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” What comforting words! What assurance and promise of hope!
Tonight, we come to the manger, each of us, in our human weakness. I invite you to seek the power of weakness. Do not be afraid! Seek the easy yoke that will lighten your load and lift the burdens you carry from your shoulders. Come to the Infant Jesus who became the Savior of the world: not through force or wielding weapons, but through suffering and death at our hands.
Christ became our Savior through nonviolence and forgiveness. Come to the manger and receive the Holy Spirit, God that empowers us to forgive even as we are forgiven. The only way to meaningfully engage power and create real peace is through weakness and humility, forgiving one another.
As you come to receive Christ in Holy Communion tonight, your body becomes the manger and your heart becomes the cradle. Every time you open them up to receive the Holy Eucharist, you are receiving the power to become children of God. Allow God to love you completely without reserve. He enters your body, your history, your future, and makes you a bearer of His peace and His glory.
Dear brothers and sisters, truly this night is one for rejoicing. It should be impossible to be sad this day, for today is Life’s birthday; The Life of which I speak is Jesus Christ; the Life that takes away the sins of the world and brings to it the bright promise of eternal life.
It is a fool who refuses to partake in our rejoicing this night. What mortal being in his or her right mind would refuse the gifts and blessings the birth of the Child of Bethlehem brings to us all. All people have an equal share in the cause of our joy, for Christ, who is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, who is the destroyer of sin and death, comes to make all men free.
This night, come to the manger to worship and adore the One who has set the stars in the sky and has made the sun and the moon to mark the seasons. Rejoice, all you who are faithful, for Christ God comes to confirm you in righteousness! Rejoice, all you sinners, for Christ God comes to pardon you, to set you free, and to lead you from the darkness and slavery of sin into the light of righteousness and freedom! Rejoice also, you unbelievers, for God calls you to life through Christ Jesus who, when the fulness of time had come, took upon Himself the nature of man, that He might reconcile that nature to Him who made it.
With the birth of Jesus Christ, Satan, the inventor of death, has been met and beaten by the very flesh which had been his field of victory. When our Lord engaged the devil in battle, He did so with great and wonderful fairness. He did not use His power as God to defeat and subdue the evil one, but being Himself the Almighty, He laid aside His uncreated Majesty to fight Satan in our weak flesh. Christ brought against the devil the very shape, the very nature of our mortality, yet without sin.
The birth of Jesus was not like other births, for no other human being, other than the Mother of God herself, is born pure; for she was chosen a Virgin of the royal lineage of David to conceive and bear the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, by Whom all things were made and in Whom all things have their being.
Mary knew the will of God as announced to her by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, and though she was initially confused, she nevertheless willingly and without question accepted God’s will. The future Mother of God knew what was to be wrought in her by the Holy Spirit, and that her modesty and purity would remain intact.
Mary had full confidence and faith in God; she had no reason to worry about her safety and welfare. God protects those whom He loves. His treatment of Mary should be a comfort to us knowing that we have a loving Father who protects and cherishes His children and who would never put them in harm’s way. Sometimes, we forget that God is on our side. Sometimes, people think that He is so indifferent to our struggles and our suffering. But, our God is not a distant or aloof God. Our God wants to be with us and He wants us to dwell with Him. That is why He sent His Son to us, that we may know and see His face in Jesus, His Divine Son, and experience more fully His love through and in Christ. For this, we must give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit; for in His great love for us, He has had mercy on us and, even though we were dead in sin, He has made us alive in Christ, that we might become a new creature, and become like Him and live with Him forever.
By being born a human being, God has lifted us up once again and restored the image of man that was lost when Adam and Eve first sinned. In Christ, we are made great again. In Christ, hope and light have once again become humanity’s possession. Christ is the Light that can never fade, nor can it ever be extinguished. The Light of Christ illumines all and dispels the darkness of sin and despair.
The Child of Bethlehem, who has been born of the Virgin Mary, and who now lays quietly in the manger, is the only hope and salvation of humanity and the world. The presence of the Infant King among us is our assurance that life is found in simplicity and innocence, in meekness and vulnerability.
Of Christ’s Body, we are made members; He dwells in us and us in Him. By His birth, the Christ Child has entered into our lives; He has delivered us from evil and has translated us into God’s light, and God’s kingdom. How can I explain in human terms what this means? There are no words adequate or sufficient to describe such a sublime reality and such an awesome and priceless gift.
It is no coincidence nor was it by chance that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The name Bethlehem means the “House of Bread.” Thus, it is the birthplace of Him who said, “I am the Living Bread, which came down from Heaven” (John 6:51). And, “I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35). We see then, that this little town of Bethlehem, was prophetically given its name because within its borders was to be born in the flesh, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Bethlehem, obscure and insignificant as it once was, is now the most famous city in the history of the world because it has the singular honor of being the birthplace of Jesus, the God-man. He who was begotten of the Father before the world came into being, came down from Heaven that we mortals may have eternal life. And this He did in Bethlehem. That is why Bethlehem is so important to the Christian Faith. That is why we Christians should be very concerned about what is happening not only in Bethlehem but in Jerusalem as well. We cannot sit idly by as Christians and the Christian Faith are being pushed out of Israel. We cannot let the place where the Light which dispels the darkness and illumines all was born.
Christ is our light forever! God has shattered the darkness of night with the birth of His Son. As the Prophet Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. This is the reason we gather tonight to celebrate the birth of the Lord, the Expected One: because He breaks into the night of despair and chaos, of disorder and doubt, with the light of His countenance. The child which now lays in a manger is the Light of the world and the world’s only hope and salvation.
The brightness of Christmas and the Light which it brings into the world can only be seen through the eyes of faith. It can only be made real if we understand and acknowledge that the Light is Christ Himself. Without Christ, there is no light, there is no hope, there is no reason for Christmas.
We recognize on this Holy Night that even after centuries of knowing Jesus Christ, our world still wanders in darkness. Even after proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, many hearts are not yet converted to Him, and our world less so. We, humans, are a broken people, and each one of us here tonight is broken.
Is it any wonder why so many people feel unfilled and empty at Christmas time? Could the reason be that they have succeeded in removing Christ from Christmas? If so, then we know why Christmas has no meaning for so many. But, tonight is Christmas, the beginning of a twelve-day feast celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world. Imagine, beloved, how different everyone would feel if Christ was put back into Christmas. Imagine the joy, the happiness, the realization that Love has come to set us free if all turned to see Christmas in its real light.
No matter how terrible our lives may seem, no matter how enmeshed we may find ourselves in sin, no matter what bad circumstances we may find ourselves in, let us rejoice, for the gates of Heaven have been opened to us. So too has the door to living righteous and pious lives in this world been opened to us. God’s love has come to earth this night, and we can rejoice now and forever. Let us walk always in the light of the Infant King of kings born this night in Bethlehem.