Homily for Christmas, 2012
If you had to run out of the house in an emergency and could only bring one thing, most of us have a crate or a box or a cabinet that we would make every effort to grab. Inside perhaps we keep old pictures, important letters and correspondence, tokens of love and affection, maybe an old home movie on VHS, some legal documents.
I have one, tucked away in the rectory, and in that box I have 2 letters that were written by father. He wrote them to me when I was a little baby and then tucked them away with the instructions that they be given to me on my 21st birthday.
I was just reading them again the other day. And I’m not going to share with you what he wrote because some things like that you just don’t share, and because I am pretty confident that those of you who are parents can imagine the thoughts that he expressed in those letters, the sentiments of a new parent.
When you have a child, everything changes. Your life takes an irreversible turn. And the irony is that as you look upon this tiny little vulnerable baby, you realize just how vulnerable you have become. The world suddenly becomes a strange and powerful mixture of incredible joys and great dangers. Little outings and events that would have barely registered on the radar become great and arduous adventures. A new and powerful motive and drive animates your life, bringing out the best and the worst in you, stretching your character, searching the limits of your capacity to give. It is time that is beautiful and scary, joyful and overwhelming.
On Christmas day 2000 years ago Joseph and Mary became the mother and father of a new baby boy, Jesus. And I’m sure that as they cared for him in those first days, their experience was much the same as that of every new parent, except that maybe it was even more intense because of their awareness that the child entrusted to them was God’s son, a child precious beyond imagining.
But the experience of Christmas, of welcoming Christ our child-Savior, did not end with Mary and Joseph in those first years of Jesus’ life. From the very early years of the Church, Christians began to celebrate Christmas because they were profoundly aware that when the Word became flesh in this little child, he was not only entrusted to Mary and Joseph as their son, but to every man and woman who has been made in his image and likeness.
Indeed, that is what we celebrate on Christmas: that Christ has been entrusted to us, given to us, when we received the gift of the faith. And this gift of God with us, Emmanuel, impacts those who receive him in faith in much the same way that he impacted the lives of his parents 2000 years ago. When you have been given Christ, everything changes. Your life takes an irreversible turn. And the irony is that as you look upon this tiny little vulnerable baby, you realize just how vulnerable and dependent on God you have become. The world suddenly becomes a strange and powerful mixture of incredible joys and great dangers. Little outings and events that would have barely registered on the radar become great and arduous adventures. A new and powerful motive and drive animates your life, bringing out the best and the worst in you, stretching your character, searching the limits of your capacity to give. It is time that is beautiful and scary, joyful and overwhelming.
This is the life of faith, the life of those who have been entrusted with the gift of this little precious and vulnerable child, the gift of our Savior.
Yet how easily we can forget this basic truth of Christian faith, avoiding the reality of how God is entrusted to us in such humble and vulnerable way. Instead of cherishing and protecting his life within us, we drag him with us into the darkness and the noise of our world, not thinking about how our choices affect our ability to care for him, affect his ability to live in us. “Aww, he can handle it, he knows that I love him.” He does know that, but that doesn’t change the fact that if we carry the precious gift of our faith carelessly and without attention, as if faith were bullet proof, as if it didn’t need to be fed and nurtured, guarded and protected – we can lose it.
Christmas reminds us that out of love for us God makes himself so incredibly vulnerable. He does not force himself upon us, he does not impose his will. He comes to us as a child, a child who can be loved and cherished or neglected, ignored, and even killed. He places his very life in our hands in a way that helps us to be most free to place our lives in his. So that our love for him can be pure and unselfish, spontaneous and generous. He gives himself to us in an all or nothing move: all the chips are in on every one of us: we are given all of Christ: body and blood, soul and divinity, nothing withheld.
When you pick up a newborn infant it is scary and beautiful at the same time: and so it must be for those of us who have received Christ in faith: scary and beautiful. Look at who we have been given, so intimately given, so profoundly given. A savior so easily rejected, a Lord so easily scorned, a God so easily denied. And yet also how easily loved! How can we not tremble a bit as we hold him in our hands: a most precious treasure clothed in such weakness!
What if we wrote him a letter. A letter not to be opened on his 21st birthday, but perhaps at the end of our earthly life, when we hope to be born into eternal life with him. Maybe in that letter we would try to express, as my father did, the sentiments of one entrusted with the life of a little child: we would tell him how precious he is, how much we love him, how much our lives are enriched because of him. How much we love his mother and admire her. How we hope we can nurture and protect him, we worry that we are not up to the task of keeping him safe in this dark and dangerous world. But that more than anything wouldn’t we just write about how grateful we are, grateful that he has been given to us, entrusted to us: this little baby, our God, our Savior.