12/25/21 Christmas Night Mass Homily
Updated: Jan 21, 2022
The readings for the Christmas Night Mass can be found: [HERE]
A very blessed and merry Christmas to all of you! We gather this night for a very simple reason: to celebrate Christmas in the best way possible—with Christ’s Mass. Like our God, who often, “writes straight with crooked lines,” (to quote Saint Teresa of Avila), many of us may have arrived to this point by somewhat an unexpected route.
Regardless of whatever challenges we’ve faced this season—or this year—we find ourselves at last at this joyful celebration, honoring the birth of our Savior. Ironically, the difficulties we’ve experienced may give us greater insight into the demands faced by the Holy Family, that led up to the first Christmas. Reflecting upon those difficulties may give us a new perspective in facing our own situations. And so, I’d like to do that now.
By some accounts, the travel distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem in those days was around 90 miles, and some scholars estimate that the journey would have lasted anywhere from four to seven days, by foot or by donkey. It doesn’t require a great imagination to envision the difficulties of such a journey, especially considering Mary’s pregnancy.
Many of us know full well the challenges of travel. We might journey for many hours at a time, and our transit from one place to another may require overnight lodging. Not to make light of our travel challenges, but we do have modern vehicles that do most of the work for us. Our travel might even be comfortable: we can have air-conditioning, food on demand, and entertainment.
But there’s no such thing as first-class on a donkey. Mary is often depicted in art as traveling on a donkey while journeying to Bethlehem. It doesn’t look particularly comfortable. And in those same images, I’ve always seen Joseph on foot.
When it comes to lodging arrangements, we can have many choices and typically make our arrangements before we leave the house. We generally have an itinerary of our travel and lodging, and we generally feel safe while we travel (I’m of course speaking about recreational travel, not travel due to a combat deployment or something like that).
Joseph and Mary didn’t have that security. They couldn’t make hotel reservations beforehand. When Joseph and Mary departed Nazareth, there was no form of Expedia or hotels.com.
Incidentally, I saw a comic the other day. It’s somewhat irreverent, but I laughed despite myself. The caption was, “The Real Origin of Silent Night. And the picture was of Joseph apologizing to Mary for not making reservations at the inn beforehand.
Joseph and Mary They had to have faith in God and entrust their safety to him. Even the weather could be unpredictable while so many days on foot. You get the picture, so I won’t dwell further on it. Joseph and Mary’s journey was a difficult and perhaps dangerous one. But none of that mattered.
What mattered was that the Savior of the world was about to be born. His birth meant everything: It turned a stable into a royal court, and a manger into the throne of God. It elevated shepherds into attendants to the King of Kings, and it summoned kings to be his servants. It turned an army of angelic champions into heralds of peace. It gave an obscure carpenter that noble authority of being Father to the Son of God, and a humble handmaiden that unique title: Mother of God. His birth gathered the rich and the poor around him: kings and shepherds. He gathered creation around himself represented by the animals, as if Eden had finally returned. His birth turned night into the brightest day; because for the first time, the world saw the face of the Son.
Even the way the years were counted changed. No longer did we record time by any worldly standard, based on any other person or event.
When ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness; when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace; in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees; in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt; around the thousandth year since David was anointed King; in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel…
In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man.
The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh became the new mile marker of all of human history: mile 1 of humanity’s new journey through time. And now we approach the two-thousand and twenty-second year A.D. (short for Anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi—In the Year of our Lord Jesus Christ).
I began with how we may have arrived to this point through many challenges—whatever they happen to be for each of us personally. What matters is that we are here, where Jesus will come to us on this altar. This is Christ’s Mass, and Christ transforms everything, and makes all things new.
His real presence in the Eucharist makes this building into his royal palace. His presence makes each of us his tabernacle. It makes us his messengers, his servants, and his heralds of peace.
God loves you. God so loved the world that he sent us his only-begotten Son. And we celebrate his birth this night [or day]. May his birth give you and me a new perspective on life, and mark our new beginning. May God bless you.