Homily for December 25th, 2005.
Caution: Putting a Sunday homily on the Website is tricky business. All the viewer has is a written text. A homily, on the other hand, is "an oral event". It may not have been said or heard the way it was written. In addition, a roughly ten-minute homily is part of a roughly one-hour worship event in which God and God's people communicate with each other by means of ritual, symbol, song, proclamation, prayer. Not everything in these homilies is original. As a homilist, I rely on and at times borrow from other homilists and writers who are not properly mentioned in this format. I am often indebted to them.
Father William Marrevee, s.c.j.
A remarkable thing: we, and millions of others over the globe, have come together because of the birth of a child in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago.
What is it in that child that brings us here? Is it because the birth of a child moves us deeply? But there are lots of children born every day. Is it because the birth of a child awakens in us feelings of simplicity, innocence, new beginnings? But let us be careful with romanticizing, idealizing the birth of a child. Is it because of the miserable circumstances in which the birth took place? But there are many more children born today in similar or even more miserable circumstances.
Something is said in the story that should make us take notice: “This will be a sign for you. You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” A sign of what? In this child it becomes visible who God is. God does not show himself as a strong man who with convincing, irresistible force comes to put things right in our chaotic world. No, God shows himself in a child, in a human being in its most original form; no titles, no functions, no pretenses, no accomplishments. That is what God is like!
And then look at what is being said about this child, because the future of this child is already contained in what is being said about his birth. This child will never become a hero, a royal majesty.
What brings us here together is not so much the birth of the child born in Bethlehem in isolation. Rather, what brings us here together is the entire life-story – short as it is – of the one born in Bethlehem . And with reference to that life-story we are asked to believe something. It is this; God does not present himself with power and force. On the contrary, in this Jesus God clothes himself with our vulnerability. God does not say: I’ll fix things for you. No, God says: I’ll accept your fate; I’ll see things through with you. I’ll be with you and I’ll show you how you can be for each other.
Yes, our world is full of war and poverty, homelessness and violence. In the face of that world we are not being given a momentary sedative in the form of “Season’s Greetings, Jingle Bells, Rudolf the red-nose Rein deer or Santaclaus.” No, we are being given the story of Jesus; and in that story a vision is held up to us: Things can be and will be different! War, poverty, homelessness, violence are not overcome by more war, retaliation, sophisticated weapons, more intense security measure, but by what God embodies in Jesus: compassion, forgiveness, solidarity, care for each other. That is the life-story of Jesus and we are being summoned to take our part in that life-story; otherwise celebrating his birth is useless.
I take it that our being here bespeaks our willingness to be drawn into that story of Jesus. We may hesitate at times; we may even disown it at times. Still, we want to believe in that story and in that path of Jesus.What I wish for you and for myself is the grace and the courage to hold on to that story and that path of Jesus and to be part of it. We have God’s guarantee that it will lead us and our world into the sort of life, freedom and glory that God so passionately wants for us.
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