Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Nativity of the Lord.  (Mass at Midnight)

(Luke 2:1-14)

"I won't grow up. I don't want to go to school."  These words of defiance were chanted by the children in Walt Disney's "Peter Pan."  But they might as well be sung by today's adults.  It is not that grown-ups think of themselves as "God's children."  How wonderful that would be!  The disgrace is that too often adults childishly think that life is mostly about enjoying oneself. They refuse to believe that one has to make sacrifices in order to experience life's fullness. This truth is indicated in the same "Peter Pan" when the children are asked to name good things so that they might be included in the adventure to "Never, never land."  At first, they respond by naming sources of passing pleasure like candy and toys.  When these do not produce the necessary bounce, they reconsider what is truly worthwhile and discover eternal gifts like joy and peace.  The angel proclaims these blessings to the shepherds in today's gospel.

The gospel story impresses us most for indicating that Jesus is born as a person so poor that he has no roof over his head.  We'll come back to that significant scene in a moment, but first let's fast forward to the message of the angel.  He says that he comes to announce "good news of great joy...for all the people."  What is this "good news of great joy"? And how will it affect "all the people"?  We know right away that the news is more than a giant sale at Walmart which only those with money can take advantage of.  Likewise we understand that it is something much better than pleasant weather for the holidays which is nice, of course, but hardly a source of great joy.  No, the news the angel bears is of something that touches deeper and lasts longer than material comforts provide. The "good news of great joy" is that a savior has been born.  "A savior from what?" we need to ask.  The answer is exactly what is seen in "Peter Pan. Jesus saves us from childish pursuits that become sins when we carry them out to high degree as adults.  He saves us from the ceaseless seeking of pleasure, power, and playthings which diverts us from fulfilling God's will.  In turn he points us to what will give eternal satisfaction - caring relationships that spring from a heart grateful to God.

Back in Bethlehem Jesus' state of lying in an animal trough and wrapped in bandages (why glorify the scene with words like "manger" and "swaddling clothes"?) because there is no room for him in the inn points toward what will happen to him in saving us from sin.  As his mother is not allowed access to the warmth of the inn when he is born, he will be abandoned by his disciples when he dies.  And as he is bandaged in birth, he will be beaten, flogged, and crucified before he dies.  In truth he will suffer more than anyone in history because he is completely free of guilt.  But it is this terrible death to which he will give himself freely that overcomes the sins of selfishness that have held us in chains.  The sacrifice on the cross not only exemplifies how we are to give of ourselves for others; it also causes its doer's love to fill our hearts.

The love we have been given is first and foremost for Jesus.  How can we withhold our utmost affection from the one who has done us the greatest good?  But it surely extends as well to the poor whom Jesus associated with that first Christmas night.  Often they show themselves as Jesus' surest friends trusting in him above all else and willing to make sacrifices for him in ways that most of us cannot even imagine.  Yes, today is principally about love - the love God has bestowed upon the world in sending us Jesus and the love we share with one another.  Christmas is also about joy and peace.  We feel joy to be delivered from the ceaseless seeking of playthings.  And we know peace from having formed right relationships with all.