Sorry everyone, I was a bit busy yesterday and did not a get a chance to upload my Christmas sermon. Here it is!
December 24, 2017
Mass at Midnight
(Isaiah 9:1-7; Luke 2:1-14)
(As, I have sat down and proof-read this a few dozen times and added things, it became obvious I should preface this sermon. As many of you heard me say at one time or another - and for those of you who have not – the Church as always taught that the sermon or a homily is meant to be many things. But, whatever it is actually meant to be at any given time, it is believed that the Holy Spirit works through the minister giving the said sermon or homily to be sure that the message that the Holy Spirit wants us to receive is actually given. That said, as I have been sitting down for three or four days writing this, it became increasingly obvious that this Christmas message is as much meant for me as it is meant for each and every one of you. I had so many other ideas I wanted to use, but apparently the Holy Spirit had other ideas. So, if I have to pause as I relate some of this, I hope you will understand why. Just as you need reminders; so do Priests!)
Sometimes life throws a lot at you and there are many challenges, disappointments, letdowns and a plethora of other things that just don’t seem like anything wants to go right sometimes. And our minds will wander a little bit and we allow ourselves to think that God has no earthly idea what we are going through. But actually we would be wrong.
God knows very well what it’s like to be human; because He’s been there. He’s been here. Because of Bethlehem, He’s experienced everything that can be experienced as a human being. So does He know what it’s like to suffer? Does He know what it’s like to go without food for 2 days; for 10 days; 40 days? Did God ever have a migraine headache as if his head was crowned with thorns? Does God know anything about thirst - and a thirst that would come from the want of blood? Does God know anything about those who are brought into the accident wards of hospitals – does He know anything about bleeding sores? Does He know what it is like to live under a totalitarian state – or what it is to be pursued by spies? Does God know anything about friends who betray you or blister you with false kisses? Does God know anything about these things? Yes! God came into all the muck and mud of this world! He went thru them and conquered them all.
Jesus didn’t tell us to clean up before you come in to meet Him; He said “Come in and I will clean you up!”
Christmas presents from Santa are great, but the perpetual presence of Christ – that’s life changing. And that’s just what He did, He brought His presence to us. He is Emmanuelle, which means ‘God with us.’ God is always near us. Always for us. Always in us. We may forget Him, but He will never forget us. When He called Himself Emmanuelle, which means, ‘God with us,’ He did not just say, God made us. Or God thinks of us. Or God above us. He said God with us.
Bethlehem was just the beginning. Jesus promised a repeat performance. It will not be silent night this time though. The skies will open, trumpets will blast, and a new kingdom will begin. He will empty the tombs and melt the winter of death. He will wipe away all tears. “Be gone, sorrow, sickness, wheelchairs, and cancer! No more screams of fear or nights of horror. Death itself will die. Life will reign! The manger we see tonight invites us, even dares us, to believe the best is yet to come. And it could be on any day; not necessarily December 25th.
Why do we punch elevator buttons more than once? Why do we love the front seat of a bus and the backseat of a church? Why do we pierce holes in our bodies and hang jewelry from them? Why do we ask for instructions and then argue with the person who gave them? And just what is the purpose of a necktie? There are so many examples like these, that the list would go on for miles. Let’s face it, rational behavior is just not one of our trademarks, but it is certainly one of God’s.
People have always wondered about the image of God. Societies have speculated. Tribes have cogitated. And we’ve reached a variety of conclusions. God has been depicted as a golden calf and a violent wind and an angry volcano. He wears wings, breathes fire, eats infants, and demands penance. We fancy God as ferocious, magical, fickle and maniacal. A God to be avoided, dreaded, and appeased. But never in mankind’s wildest imaginations did we consider that God would enter the world as an infant!
And why did He come to us in this way? He wants us to know that He understands us. He wants us to know that He understands how we feel and that He has faced what you face. “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
And because we know that He understands, we should also know that we can boldly go to Him. Because of Bethlehem’s miracle, we can answer some fundamental questions. “Does God care if I’m sad?” Look at the tear streaked face of Jesus as He stands near Lazarus’s tomb. “Does God notice when I’m afraid?” Note the resolve in the eyes of Jesus as He marches through the storm to rescue His friends. “Does God know if I am ignored or rejected?” Find the answer in the compassionate eyes of Christ as He stands to defend the adulterous woman. Jesus radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God! (Hebrews 1:3)
Jesus came with tears too. He knows the burden of a broken heart. He knows the sorrow this life can bring. He could have come as a shining light or a voice in the clouds, but He came as a person. He came as a little baby in Bethlehem. Does God understand you? The answer, my friends, is in Bethlehem.
Gaze where Mary gazed. Look into God’s face and be assured. If the King of all creation was willing to enter the world of animals and shepherds in swaddling clothes, and lay in our trough that animals slobber in; don’t you think He’s willing to enter yours?
Only God saves. If we could save ourselves, why would we need a Savior? Why would God put Himself in Bethlehem? Jesus did not enter the world to help us save ourselves. He entered the world to save us from ourselves.
Let’s think of the story of a young girl. As much as she tried to keep a good attitude it was not easy. She was far from home, miles from family and her own bed. She has spent the last few days on crowded roads, enduring the winter chill. Money was scarce. Friends were nowhere near. A warm bed and a hot meal? The prospects were slim.
Ask her which was worse, the pain in her heart or the pain in her back, and she’d be hard-pressed to make a choice.
Her heart ached for her family. She felt estranged from them. Under normal circumstances they would have been thrilled to learn of her pregnancy. But pregnant before the wedding? With her conservative family and her bizarre explanation? And you have to tell the man she was to marry that she was carrying a child who wasn’t his? It was a miracle he still married her. And another miracle was what she needed that night.
She envisioned giving birth at home; mom holding one hand, aunt on the other. A midwife, doting relatives, Joseph, and a crowd of neighbors outside the door. Maybe if they all could have experienced the birth of her firstborn together, then they would believe her story.
But in spite of the chaos, Christ came. Through a scandalous pregnancy, and imposed census, an untimely trip, and an overcrowded inn, God triumphed in Mary’s story.
God is making a point. Chaos cannot keep Christ out of this world. The Messiah was born, not because of His ancestors, but in spite of them. Tamar was abandoned. Ruth was an immigrant, and Rahab was a harlot. David was an adulterer. Solomon a philanderer. The family tree of Jesus is gnarled and crooked, to say the least. Some of the kings were bloodthirsty and godless. Yet God had promised that Jesus would come, and so He did.
Christ came! In spite of sin and scandal, Christ came. In spite of racism and sexism, Christ came. Though the people forgot God, Christ came. In spite of, and out of, the pandemonium, Christ came. The surprise pregnancy, the sudden census, the long road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Unpleasant and difficult, yet they resulted in the world’s greatest miracle.
Many people today - even this night- sometimes find it hard to hold it together. Everything inside you and every voice around you says, “Get out. Get angry. Get drunk. Get high.” But we cannot listen to those voices. Further still, we cannot face a crisis if we will not face God first. We need to not worry about anything; instead, we should pray about everything. Tell God our needs, always remembering to say thank you for His answers – even if it was not the answer we hoped for. If we do this, we will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)
You are never too old, too messed up, or to warn out. Elijah was depressed. God still came to him. Abraham was old. God still led him. Moses was long retired. God still called him. Jonah was on the run. God still used him. Jacob cheated his family. God still had a place for him. Peter betrayed Christ, Paul persecuted Christ, Thomas doubted Christ, but each learned it was not too late for Christ.
You were counting on your marriage to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it didn’t. You were counting on that retirement to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it didn’t. You were counting on that education to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and to fill you. But it didn’t. You were counting on that body to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it hasn’t. Worship might not be the word you use to describe your passion, yet the term fits. Anytime we trust an object or activity to give us life and meaning, we worship it.
When we make good things the ultimate things, we set ourselves up for disappointment. If we depend on a career or relationship to give our lives meaning, what happens when retirement comes or the relationship ends? The list of imposter gods includes sex, food, money, alcohol, success and influence. In the correct dosage and context, these can be wonderful gifts from God. But they are dismal substitutes for God. To worship them is to be satisfied, then brokenhearted. Infatuated, then discouraged. Enthralled, then angry.
It’s never too late to come to Christ for help. Your stack of sins is never too high. Your list of failures is never too long. The knock at the door of your heart? That’s Jesus. He’s asking you to let Him in this Christmas.
Worship God, who can store the universe in His pocket and the oceans in an eyedropper. Are you ashamed? Worship Jesus, whose love never fades. Are you bereaved? Open your heart to your Shepherd. He will lead you through the valley of sorrow. Do you feel small? A few moments in front of the throne of your living King will evaporate any sense of insignificance. A little worship works wonders.
Back in the 80s there was a popular country song called, “Always on my mind.” The singer tells his sweetheart that even though he seldom expressed his feelings through words or actions, she was always on his mind. Frankly I’m not sure where the writer of those lyrics learned the secret of romance, but he obviously did not consult women (or even men). No sweetheart would accept the excuse. “You never told me, never gave me flowers, kind words, or complements, but I was always on your mind? Yeah, right.”
God doesn’t buy it either. He wants to hear our affection. It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, and when the mouth is silent, the heart is in question. Do you love God? Then let Him know. Tell Him! Out loud. In public. Unashamed. Let there be jubilation, celebration, and festivity!
Christmas and giftgiving. The two have always been associated with each other for good reason. The Magi gave Jesus the gifts of gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for His burial. The shepherds gave Jesus the gift of their time and belief. Mary gave Jesus the gift of her womb. The offerings seem practical. The wise men’s treasures could be used to fund the families escape to Egypt. The shepherd’s visitation would keep the family company. Mary’s womb would protect the growing child. But there is one gift that might appear to be a bit curious; the Angels gift of worship:
“And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom He is well pleased.
And it came to pass, when the Angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” (Luke 2:13-15)
The presence of Christ deserves an abundant chorus. Every generation has its share of “Jesus, yes; church, no” type of Christians. For a variety of reasons they turn away from church attendance. They do so at a great loss. Something happens in corporate worship that does not happen in private worship. When you see my face in the sanctuary and I hear your voice and the chorus of responses and singing, we are mutually edified. Granted, every congregational worship is somewhat imperfect. We sing off key. Our attendance tends to wander. But, something powerful happens when we worship together just like the Angels of the heavenly host.
People see signs of God every day. Sunsets to steal the breath. Newborns that bring tears. Migrating geese that stir a smile. But to all who see these signs draw near to God? Usually no. Many are content simply to see the signs. They do not realize the riches of God are intended to turn us toward Him.
God uses every possible means to communicate with you. The wonders of nature call to you. The promises and prophecies of Scripture speak to you. God Himself reaches out to you. He wants to help you find your way home.
Christmas celebrates God breaking through to our world. In a feeding stall of all places. He will not leave us in the dark. He is the pursuer, the teacher. He won’t sit back while we miss out. So, He entered our world. He send signals and messages of hope and life. He cracks the shell of our world and invites us to peek into His.
As you worship Jesus, be grateful. He will lead you home. Who knows? Maybe before Jesus comes again, we will discover why men don’t ask for directions. Then we can pursue the other great question a life: why do women apply makeup while driving?
Christmas is a season to be looking. Looking for the snow if it’s cold, mistletoe if he’s dense, instructions if some assembly is required.
Looking for red-nose lights you’re young, headlights if you’re a grandma, insights if you’re a preacher. ‘Tis the season to be looking. There is nothing to be ashamed by this.
The first Christmas was marked by “lookers” also. Joseph looking for lodging. Mary looked into the face of Jesus. A thousand Angels looked upon the King. The Wise Men looked at the star.
The Second Advent will include the sudden, personal, visible, bodily return of Christ. Jesus promised, “I will come again.” Hebrews declared, “Christ … will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
What is to happen next and what we hope for, is for what God promised: a new heaven and a new earth where justice reigns. (2 Peter 3:13) History is not an endless succession of meaningless cycles but a directed movement toward a great event. God has a timeline. And because of Bethlehem, we have an idea where we stand on it.
The Apostle John said, “My dear children, these are the last days.” (1 John 2:18) We enjoy the fruit of the first coming but anticipate the glory of the second. We refuse to believe that this present world is the sum total of human existence. We celebrate the first Advent to whet our appetites for the second.
If you knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, what would you do today? Live in such a way that you would not have to change your plans. Live always in the expectation the Christ is about to come.
Hollywood would recast the Christmas story. Joseph’s collar is way too blue. Mary is green from inexperience. The couple star power doesn’t match the bill. Two obscure. Two simple. The story warrants some headliners. A square-jawed Joseph. We can think of a Hollywood superstar for him. And Mary needs a beauty mark and glistening teeth. A plethora of female actresses come the mind. And what about the shepherds? Do they sing? There is any number of Grammy award winning popular musical artists available.
A civilized person would sanitize it. No person, however poor, should be born in a cow stall. Hay on the floor. Animals on the hay. Don’t place the baby in the feed trough; the donkey’s nose has been there. Don’t wrap the newborn in rags. They smell like sheep. Speaking of smells, watch where you step.
A good public relations firm would move the birth to a big city. See what Roman palaces they might rent, what Greek villas they could lease. The Son of God deserves a royal entry. Less peasant, more pizzazz. Out with the heads of sheep, and in with the heads of state. Should we tickertape this event? Probably so. And so Hollywood would recast the Christmas story.
However, God made so little of His Son’s coming. He didn’t even circle the date on the calendar. Ancient Christmases bounced from date to date before landing on December 25. Some early leaders favor dates in March. For centuries the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas on January 6, and some branches still do. Only in the fourth century did the Church choose December 25 as a date to celebrate Jesus’ coming. We make bigger deals out of lesser things. So how could this be? No exact date of birth? No hoopla at his birth. Is this a mistake? Or is this exactly the message?
Maybe your life resembles a Bethlehem stable. I know mine does. Crude in some spots, spelling others. Not much glamour. Not always neat. People in your circle remind you of stable animals: grazing like sheep, stubborn like donkeys, in that cow in the corner looks a lot like the fellow next door.
You, like Joseph, knocked on the innkeeper’s door. But you were too late. Or too old, sick, dull, damaged, poor, or peculiar. You know the sound of the slamming door, as it seems I have so often heard lately. So here you are in the grotto, always on the outskirts of activity, it seems.
But it really comes down to one thing: God loves us. The story of Christmas is a story of God’s relentless love for us.
Let Him love you. If God was willing to wrap Himself in rags and drink from his human mother’s breast, then all questions about his love for you should be off the table.
The moment Mary touched God’s face is the moment God made His case: there is no place He will not go. If He is willing to be born in the barnyard, then expect Him to be at work anywhere – bars, bedrooms, boardrooms, in brothels. No places too common. No person is too hardened. No distance is too far. There is no person He cannot reach. There is no limit to His love.
When Christ was born, so was our hope!
Let us pray.
For our presiding Bishop and all bishops, that their life, teaching, preaching, and pastoral care will proclaim the saving Event of the Incarnation to all. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
For our country and those who lead it; that true freedom and justice may reign. We pray to the Lord.
For lasting peace throughout the world; that the coming of the Prince of Peace will put an end to all enmity and division, and unify the peoples of the world. We pray to the Lord.
For families; that the graces of Christmas will draw family members together in lasting bonds of love. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, and refugees; that Jesus Christ, who came into the world is one who was destitute and marginalized, Will love and rescue them. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish in parish family will grow abundantly in the coming year; May the projects that we plan come to fruition for the glory of His Name. We pray to the Lord.
That all peoples this Christmas will seek out Bethlehem in the Divine Babe and come to a personal relationship with Christ. We pray to the Lord.
That all Christians will be serious in responding to the universal call to holiness by living their faith with great fervor. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, darkness is forever changed because of the Birth of Light; Jesus Christ your son. Take all the darkness of our lives and replace it with the radiance of our new born Savior that we have encountered in Bethlehem this night. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA