"And suddenly, there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the Highest; and Peace on earth to men of good will!"
Christmas is upon us, and in the Christian community our faith mirrors what is happening in the natural world during early winter. We are waiting for the new light of the world to shine upon a darkened planet. This light comes in the form of the child, born to the Virgin Mary, more than 2,000 years ago. With this one child's birth was born the reality that our creator-God loves mankind unconditionally, and in turn, asks us to do the same.
Again, this year, the Christmas moon and stars look down on a scene that looks very ordinary and, in many places, very ugly. There are colorful lights, the exchanging of gifts, holiday meals, the singing of carols - but there are also cries of hunger, the darkness of war, the emptiness of loss, a world in economic crisis. There seems to be very few signs of peace, good will toward men, and God's glory.
Christmas stirs people's hearts to generosity for those who are in need. The Savior's humble birth deepens our awareness of modern day refugees, homeless families and hungry children. Even the secular press sponsor clothing and food drives for the needy and inform readers how and where they can volunteer to feed the homeless and drop off warm clothing for those in need. These are wonderful efforts and are to be applauded. But the Christmas season will fade. In most cases, the day after Christmas will find our curbs lined with discarded Christmas trees, decorations and gift wrappings. Radio stations will return to regularly scheduled programming and the sounds of Christmas music will suddenly fade from memory. Society will move on and bundle up for the cold and dreary days of January that lie ahead.
The challenge for believers is to carry the message Luke gives us today into the winter, spring, summer and autumn days ahead that mark our year - our Christian year.
The miracle of Christ's coming in our flesh, of God's taking on our humanity and making it holy seems very hidden indeed. There must be voices that will shatter the darkness and dispel the despair. There must be messengers to reassure suffering people everywhere that God is with us, that peace is possible, that justice is attainable. God's greatest miracles often go unnoticed unless there are messengers and angels to announce them. God's gifts of peace, and justice and reconciliation are hidden in the ordinariness and ugliness of human history; there must be angels to point them out.
The angels do not bring a commandment of what we must do to win God's favor. Rather they announce that God has manifested glory by favoring us with a savior. Instead, we first hear the "good news of great joy" that tells us what God has already done and is doing for us. First and foremost story of Christ's birth is one of grace. God's favor rests on us; not for anything we have done, but because God has chosen to be gracious to us.
We who believe the miracle of Christmas must be the messengers. We must announce God's presence and the Saving Word of Jesus to the sick and lonely and suffering people around us. We do this by our words, our acts and our lives. It is our sense of wonder and awe of the miracle of Christmas. It is the song of our love and compassion for others day in the ordinary circumstances of everyday that announce: "Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom God's favor rests!" Then, and only then, will the rest of the world know how remarkable Christmas really is!
The truth we celebrate at Christmas is that God's Spirit permeates throughout all human cultures. It moves men and women to greater depths of cooperation and care and generosity? it assures all of us of hope and healing in the face of the suffering and tragedy of this fragile planet. And it moves all of us to live our lives the best we can, in ways that empower and dignify our neighbors and ourselves.
Christmas is such a powerful, intimate reminder that, once we believe, we are never alone. Once we accept the miracle of God-made-man, then every facet of human life takes on a new dimension ...a Jesus-dimension. Everything is touched by His spirit of love, of peace, of hope.
For a brief moment, we put aside all of the evil and the ugliness, the drums of war, the burden of poverty and injustice, the clouds of sadness and sickness - and we move into the silence of Bethlehem, to gaze upon the impossible-come-true. We see the Child-king, the prince of peace, the long-awaited Messiah, the Redeemer and Savior... the light and the hope of the world.
Christ, the Word become Flesh reminds us that the Kingdom of God is not something unattainable or out of reach... it is not something in the future for which we hope. The Word became Flesh to remind us of the joyful news that the Kingdom is here and now: among us, around us, within us.
Real joy is knowing that each one of us is part of God's great scheme of things. But it is also knowing that Jesus is part of that great scheme as well. Through Jesus : that human being born into the world the way each one of us is born : earth is lifted to Heaven and Heaven stoops down to touch the earth... and each individual one of us is declared to be meaningful and loved. Christmas challenges us to turn upside down and inside out where we look for the sacred: in the mess of the stable, in events that can go horribly wrong, in the lowliest of people, in people of different cultures, in the love of a man and a woman and their baby.
My prayers for you and your families throughout this special Christmas season and all throughout your journey of faith. Faith makes all things possible, Hope makes all things work, Love makes all things beautiful. May you have all the three for this Christmas.
Let us, together, be bearers of the Christmas message to all. We proclaim and celebrate Emmanuel, God-with-us... the God Who has always been with us, and Who will always be with us!