25 December 2012

The Nativity: God's plan to bring you home

Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity (Day)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We start: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” Let there be day and night; let there be water above and water below; let be sky and earth; beasts wild and tame, birds, and crawling things; and let there be Man, male and female, created in the image and likeness of their Creator. With God, at the beginning, when He created everything that is, was the Word, and “all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” It is this Word-at-the-beginning that we come together this morning to honor, adore, and welcome. Not the Word in majesty and splendor; not the Word in his brilliant glory, but the Word-given-flesh: the child, Jesus Christ, the infant son of Joseph and Mary. His birth among us reveals a narrow path, a way and a means back to God's glory and truth. To those who receive him he gives power to become children of God. 

We honor, adore, and welcome Christ-dwelling-us; we accept and receive him as Lord so that we may become children of God. Of all the ways available to God to make us into His children, why did He choose to send His only-begotten Son among us as a child? The complete answer to this question won't be available to us until we see God face-to-face; however, our Holy Father, Benedict, gives us a glimpse, a partial answer. In his Midnight Mass homily in Rome yesterday, the Holy Father said, “. . .it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him. . .It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you. . .So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.” We must remember that the incarnation of the Son was not the first time that God had tried to bring His human creatures back to Him. He appeared in glory to Moses. He guided His people out of slavery in Egypt as a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke. He sent one prophet after another to accuse His people of spiritual adultery and injustice and preach repentance. He sent the Law and demanded obedience. And over and over again, His people misheard, misread, disobeyed, rebelled. And over and over again, He forgave them and restored them to His grace. What we needed was a permanent solution. 

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews notes this turbulent history and points to just such a solution: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son. . .” All that had been revealed by God before the birth of the Christ is partial, incomplete. Just quick glimpses behind the veil that separates the Creator from His creation. With imperfect knowledge, and using broken human nature, we were unable to come fully back to God, unable to achieve—even with the help of the Law and the Prophets—we were unable to attain the perfection we were made to enjoy. Having willed that we once again enjoy the original justice of the Garden, God saw that it would be good for us to have perfect knowledge of His plan and a mended human nature to use this knowledge. To achieve this, He made the unique and final revelation of His plan for our salvation into a flesh and bone human child. Not only would this child show us the way back to God, he would be the way back, the only way back to our Eden. The key to His plan is the Christ Child and the virginal teenaged girl who gave him birth. 

What does the Christ Child reveal to us? John writes, “From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” From the fullness of Christ—from this one divine person with two natures: one human, one divine—from his fullness, we have been given one gift upon another, one grace after another. We have been given perfect human knowledge of God's plan for our salvation from sin and death. We have been given a map to follow along the Way. We have been given the Truth of this world and our place in the world to come. We have been given Life and life eternal. And we have been given all this for no reason than that God loves us as His children and wills that we live with Him forever. All there is to do is to freely receive all that He has freely given and then dwell as Christ does among the living and the dead. To make our reception of these gifts both fearless and complete, God sent His only-begotten Son to live among us as one of us. And he gifted us with a Blessed Mother who bears us up to His throne as one of her own to commend to us to His mercy. Christ and his mother bring into this world the unique and final revelation of God. 

We start again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” His light shines in the darkness of sin and death, showing all who choose to see a Way to Truth and Life. For those who choose to see, and in seeing choose to follow, he makes a promise of life eternal. And so, we gather here this morning to honor, adore, and welcome him among us as one of us. And in eating his body and drinking his blood, we pledge ourselves to leave this place, taking him out into the world as a wonder and a revelation. God the Father through the Holy Spirit placed the Son in the virginal womb of Mary. She is our mother and our model when she says to Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Leave this place then with your heart and mind left open to her example; leave here knowing, feeling, and believing that God loves you and wants you to live with Him forever. Leave here with the Blessed Mother's surrender resounding in your body and soul. And come back—again and again—to give Him thanks for His Christ, to give Him praise for His plan to bring you home. 

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1 comment:

  1. I really just wanted to close my eyes at the beginning of this homily and just let the images wash over my - unfortunately, I can't yet read with my eyes closed. This is one I would really like to have heard - the way you wound the words together, the pacing/rhythm, images...beautiful.

    Definitely needed a period of silence after this just to let it soak in. There is a lot there, a lot I could comment on, but suffice it to say I was touched and moved and could have listened to (read)even more.

    Can a homily be a work of art? If so, this one came pretty close. Thank you!