Homily for Christmas 2008
Jesus wasn't born during the holidays! It was a day like any other in Bethlehem. It was a workday. And with the population on the move for the census as St Luke tells it, the streets and roads of the region would be full of anxious people just as ours are today. The lack of room at the inn is an indication of the busyness of the time.
The Saviour came into a world every bit as difficult and frantic as our own. The tinsel and prettiness of our decorations and nativity scenes could make us forget how meagre and ordinary the circumstances of the stable in Bethlehem were. Maybe, with hindsight some would prefer to see a crib of gold and silk rather than a manger because we know who was born there. But Jesus would not have wanted it any other way. The Saviour comes no less into our commonplace surroundings. It is our world that he saves, not some angelic paradise.
The Catholic writer of last century, G. K. Chesterton, among others, wrote word such as these, "When a person has found something which he prefers to life itself, he, for the first time, has begun to live" (I have not been able to track down the source of this quote I found). Something of that depth is experienced perhaps for many when they fall in love for the first time. Or when a child is born. Even if the world around is bleak and dangerous in such circumstances as these the world seems to be a beautiful place after all. There is someone or something far greater and more beautiful than oneself.
We address Jesus as "Lord". In Jesus' own day Caesar alone was Lord in the Roman Empire. So to claim Jesus as Lord was dangerous indeed in those days. If Jesus is Lord, then the economy and the market is not. If Jesus is Lord, then all my possessions are not. If Jesus is Lord not even my family or my home are lord.
Christmas invites us into a bigger story than our own. It is God's story. As you listen to the voices in the media these days talking about Christmas you get the feeling that they are distancing themselves from any kind of Christian allegiance and preferring a neutral holiday. A holiday with a Santa who makes no demands on us except to spend! The current view seems to say that life is found only in oneself. Or at least life can be constructed with the help of others. There is nothing beyond our limited humanity and my own limited ideas worth living for.
The 10th December this year was the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a document that is not by any means lived up to by the nations who signed it in 1948. That failure, however, makes it all the more important to work towards its implementation. It was arrived at by consensus among the nations. That consensus is its foundation. Its difficulty is that there is no deeper foundation than that consensus. Such political consensus can be ignored at will by individual nations. Since Pope John XXIII wrote his encyclical Pacem in Terris in 1963 the Church has developed a strong theology of human rights. The foundation of this Catholic theology is our belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God. That means that all people are worthy of infinite respect irrespective of age or status.
The birth of Jesus puts that truth into graphic relief. This child, the very image of God, the very Word of God, is saying to us that this creation, this life, is the place where God choses to dwell. This is the people God has chosen as his own and he loves them. This world is certainly a place of darkness. Yet it is within this very darkness that a light has shone.
For us who Celebrate the birth of Christ we believe that God, revealed in Jesus, is the only one to whom we can surrender without losing ourselves. In fact, in surrendering ourselves to God we gain much much more than we could ever hope or imagine, both in this life as well as the next. Contrary to common belief it is a surrender that sets us free. It does not enslave or limit us. We are free from the anxiety of thinking we have to do it all ourselves out of our own strenght. It is an extraordinary claim we make at Christmas. It is no wonder people find it hard to believe. Yet, we celebrate it here today because we have begun to live.