December 24, 2018
“Mass at Midnight”
(Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14)
A woman and her four-year old son were standing in line at a fast-food restaurant when in walked a man covered in tattoos. The boy turned to him and said, “Looks like somebody got into the markers.”
Gentleman tells of flight he had that was a late arrival at the Nashville airport which left him in front of a car rental agent one night. In a heavy southern drawl, she asked, “Can Ah help y’all?” After processing my order, she said, “I have an accent. Is that okay?” “I do not mind at all,” he said. “Being from New England, I have on too.” She waited a minute before replying, “I meant the car. I have a Hyundai Accent.”
PRN is a medical abbreviation of the Latin pro re nata, meaning “when necessary.” Apparently, some nurses never learned their abbreviations. One day, a senior nurse walked into a patient’s room to find a suppository shoved up the patient’s nose. When she confronted the younger nurse responsible, the latter admitted that she thought PRN stood for “per right nostril.”
A blithering idiot enters a building and goes to the counter. “I would like a large soda, a hamburger, and french-fries, please,” he says. The woman behind the counter says, “Sir, you are in a library!” The blithering idiot looks around and notices others sitting quietly and reading. He leans in to the librarian and whispers, “I would like a large soda, a hamburger, and French fries, please.”
A woman texted her husband to tell him that she would be out of touch for a bit since she planned to color her hair. Thanks to spelling auto correct, here’s what he read: “After I finish my cup of coffee, I am going to die. You may not be able to reach me while I’m in the midst of that.”
Okay, now that I know you are all awake, I will actually start the sermon.
I think that is exactly what Jesus is trying to do with each of us; he is trying to get our attention; He is attempting to be sure we are awake. We tend to get so lost in the secular Christmas activities, that we forget to pay attention to the one who’s birthday we celebrate. Sometimes, He has to break in with whatever manner will wake us up or grab our attention. The Birth of Christ is one of those times.
The Incarnation – the birth of Christ – in my estimation, is by far the most important feast of the Christian religion. Some claim that Easter is, however, I, like some other theologians, feel that without the Incarnation, none of the rest would have been able to take place. God humbles himself to become one with His creation. What a radical thing to do. Sure, He has the power to raise Himself from the death of the cross, but why come and restrict Himself as a mere mortal and go through all that in the first place only to end up on the cross to boot?
Dorothy Sayers, a British essayist and novelist, some years ago, said: “The Incarnation means that for whatever reason God chose to let us fall … to suffer, to be subject to sorrows and death – he has nonetheless had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine … He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He himself has gone through the whole of human experience – from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death … He was born in poverty and suffered infinite pain – all for us – and thought it well worth his while.”
Sometimes, we can look across humanity and think to ourselves how indeed Christ could have thought it worth His while to suffer for us. God gifted us a gift above all gifts. But, we should consider what kind of gift it is. Are we deserving of such a gift? Some gifts by their very nature make you swallow your pride. What are we to make of this gift – the gift of the Incarnation?
Two Sundays ago I spoke about the Star Wars movies as analogies for our faith. (Yes, you Chreaster people missed a good one! That’s what happens when you only come twice a year. I blame the Romans for scaring you away from church!) I spoke of how the movie starts out with opening words scrolled on the screen, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Basically this open scroll is saying, “Once upon a time…”
However, the Incarnation is neither. If we were to read the opening of the Gospel according to Matthew, we would read the genealogy of Jesus the Christ. That means he is grounding what Jesus Christ is and does in history. Jesus is not a metaphor. He is real. It is His-Story. This all happened. And we should be so overjoyed!
The biblical Christmas texts are accounts of what actually happened in history. They are not Aesop’s Fables, inspiring examples of how to live well. Many people believe the Gospel to be just another moralizing story, but they could not be more mistaken. There is no “moral of the story” to the Nativity!
The shepherds, the parents of Jesus, the wise men – are not being held up primarily as examples for us. The Gospel narratives are telling you not what you should do but what God has done! The birth of the Son of God into the world is a Gospel, good news, an announcement! You don’t save yourself. God has come to save you!
Christianity is not really about self-improvement (though that should be one of the effects). It is not just a place to get some inspiration and guidance for life. Of course the Christian Gospel has massive implications for how we live. But it is first of all a message that you need to be saved, and you are saved not in the slightest by what you can do but rather by what He has done.
The part we need to remember, especially today in a society that is so split. We hear about so many people leaving the church. We hear so many that don’t feel welcome to come to church. We hear so many judgmental statements being made about other people – who they are and/or how they live – in and outside of the church. However, let me tell you tonight, as I do very often in our humble denomination, if the Church were perfect, we couldn’t belong. Not you, not the clergy, not me – not even the Pope.
Jesus, in His Incarnation, made the biggest statement and lesson there is, and so many are missing it – especially theologians and pastors. What is that message?
Earlier I mentioned that the Gospel is based on history. Within that history are many men and women who make up that genealogy. I won’t go through them all, of course for reasons of brevity, however let’s dig into it a little and see how the Incarnation affects us.
When the future king David was a fugitive, running for his life from King Saul, a group of men went out into the wilderness with him, came around him, and put their lives on the line to protect him. They risked everything for him, and Uriah was one of them, a friend to whom he owed his life (2 Samuel 23:39). Yet years later, after David became king, he looked upon Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and he wanted her. He slept with her. Then he arranged to have Uriah killed in order to marry her. He did, and one of their children was Solomon, from whom Matthew lists Jesus as descended from. It was of that dysfunctional family, and out of that deeply flawed man, that the Messiah came.
So, here you have moral outsiders – adulterers, adulteresses, incestuous relationships, prostitutes. In fact we are reminded that even the prominent male ancestors – Judah and David – were both moral failures. You also have cultural outsiders, racial outsiders, and gender outsiders. The Law of Moses excluded these people from the presence of God, and yet they are all publically acknowledged as the ancestors of Jesus.
What does it mean? It means that people who are excluded by culture, by society, or by the law of God can be brought in to Jesus’ family. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter your pedigree, it doesn’t matter your sexual identity or even promiscuousness, it doesn’t even matter if you have murdered someone (though your life could become suddenly complicated, so I wouldn’t recommend it). If you repent and believe in Him, the grace of Jesus Christ can cover your sin or societal inequality and unite you with Him!
Christmas is that time of year when we should allow Christ’s holiness to infect us. We should come to Him, regardless of who we are, what we’ve done, how morally stained we may be, because he will make us as pure as snow. However, He has not just come to the obvious flawed, He has come for all. There is no one, not even the greatest human being, who does not need the grace of God. And there is no one, not even the worst human being, who can fail to receive the grace of Jesus Christ.
Yet, some of you might say that Christ has passed you by. He has ignored your pleas, He has turned away when you most needed Him. Christmas reminds us that this is not so. We can look to Joseph in the Old Testament as an example. For years it seemed like God was ignoring Joseph’s prayers, letting him experience one disaster after another. I know the past two years has seemed the same for me personally, but I am reminded by Christmas and by Joseph that it isn’t always so. Because, in the end, in Joseph’s story, every one of those things had to happen in order for all to be saved. Joseph was able to say to his brothers, who sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
We see Jesus, being called to heal a fatally ill girl but, He stops to deal with someone else instead allowing Jairus’ daughter to die. His timing seemed completely wrong – until it became clear that it wasn’t (Mark 5:21-43). God’s grace virtually never operates on our time frame, on a schedule we consider reasonable. He does not follow our agendas or schedules. When Jesus spoke to the despairing father Jairus, whose daughter had just died, He said, “Believe” (Mark 5:36)! Jesus was saying, “If you want to impose your time frame on Me, you will never feel loved by Me, and it will be your fault, because I do love you. I will fulfill my promises.”
Even if you have not kept your promises to Jesus, He will keep His toward you! In Jesus you stop having to prove yourself because you know it doesn’t matter in the end whether you are a failure or a king. All you need is God’s grace, and you have it, in spite of your failures. After you know Him, you want to live your life to please Him.
We also need to rest from the troubles and evils of this world. We feel like we have to control history, we have to make everything right, but that is not only exhausting but also impossible. The birth of Christ – the Incarnation – tells us that despite appearances to the contrary, our good God is in control of history. And someday He will put everything right. He hears our prayers and is making it all okay in His time.
So, as Jesus answered the people who questioned him why his disciples did not fast like the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” We too, have the bridegroom present. We have God present in the person of the Christ Child. For this, we too, no matter whom we are, should be glad and celebrate. “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, Upon David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” Amen.
Let us pray.
On this Christmas night we pray that the news of Christ’s birth enlighten our hearts and minds and fill us with love for our neighbor, particularly those in need. We pray to the Lord.
Just as the shepherds carried the good news that a child was born who would be a Savior for all, we pray that we too recognize our duty as Christians to also proclaim the glory of God and Christ’s message to all the world. We pray to the Lord.
At this time of joy and celebration, we think of those in our community who have lost loved ones in the last year. May they find consolation in the goodness of the Father who sent his only Beloved Son onto this earth to show his love for us. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those who, through emigration, illness or other personal reasons are separated from family, loved ones or homeland this Christmas, that God’s comforting and strengthening love will sustain them. We pray to the Lord.
As our children enjoy the wonder of Christmas day, we pray for those children who are in suffering hunger, homelessness and terror in areas of conflict throughout the world. We pray that the peace of the Christ birth be theirs in 2019. We pray to the Lord.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we remember in our prayers those, who like Mary and Joseph, are homeless this Christmas and pray that through the help, concern and generosity of those who are spared such tragedy, they may be helped out of their difficulties and experience less troubled times in the New Year. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those present at our Mass today and for their families, that their Christmas holiday may be a happy and peaceful one. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
God of love and mercy, may the coming of your son scatter the darkness of the world, and make it radiant with his light. May we follow him faithfully, and come to the light that shines forever. May all of your creation come to know your love for them, regardless of their circumstances or perceived placement in your kingdom. As society moves further and further away from you, dear Father, bring yourself ever closer to them that they may experience your Holy Spirit in profound ways. We ask all this through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
Merry & Blessed Christmas to all.
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA