Thursday, January 7, 2016

Father Riley's Christmas Eve sermon

CHRISTMAS EVE - C - 15                 LUKE 2. 1-20

Tonight our Advent period of waiting is over. Tonight we pause from all the commercial and cultural turmoil, decorating and gift wrapping to worship the Christ-Child. Many of us, I am sure would prefer some peace and quiet, to be still and contemplate on our own what God’s coming to us in the flesh really means; to enjoy “a silent night” that takes us away from the anxieties of commercial Christmas.
What it is we really celebrate at Christmas, if not Christ’s taking on our human flesh; his taking on our human form to be among us, fully man and fully God. How Jesus could be fully God and Man simultaneously is incomprehensible to the mere workings of the human mind. The Incarnation is a “mystery,” something we would never have imagined had it not been revealed to us by God in Holy Scripture.
Thus Luke’s familiar story of the birth of the Christ-Child is our focus tonight. In the gospel Mary and Joseph fulfilled the requirements of the law - they were included in the census. That is why they left Nazareth and traveled to Bethlehem in Judea. They did not expect the child to be born there, and they certainly did not expect the visit of the shepherds.
Jesus being born in Bethlehem, a city of David, confirmed the prophet Micah’s prediction of the place of Messiah’s birth. The shepherds finding the infant Jesus in the manger as the angel said, confirmed the angel’s message, and the shepherd’s telling Mary and Joseph what they had heard from the angel concerning the child confirmed what Mary and Joseph had kept secret in their hearts.
Luke turns the spotlight on the shepherds as they were the first to hear the good news of the Savior’s birth. It was something they never would have imagined had it not been for the angel’s revealing it to them. The appearance of the angel of the Lord and the bright light that accompanied the angel’s presence both frightened the shepherds and interrupted their routine.
“Be not afraid,” the angel told them, “for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
After overcoming their fear and the angelic choir’s departure, the lowly shepherds do the unthinkable; they leave off watching over their flock and descend the Judean hillside to the little town of Bethlehem to seek out this newborn king; to see if what the angel said was true.
Were it not for the angel’s revelation the shepherds would not have known what child to seek, or where to look. Bethlehem was filled with people, men, women, and children, not only the locals, but now, with all those who had come to be counted. Surely the infant Jesus was not the only infant in town. But the only one, the shepherds found lying in a manger.
The story of the excited shepherds created a temporary astonishment in the village, as you might imagine, going from manger to manger as they did until they finally found him of whom the angels did sing. With bated breath they revealed to Joseph and Mary what the angel had told them concerning this child. But Luke says, Mary kept a resolute silence.
What does God’s coming to us in the flesh demonstrate if not His desire to have an authentic relationship with us? He has dwelt among us in the most humble of settings beginning with His birth which Luke presents  in perfect simplicity. The same Lord who came among us in Bethlehem, and who will return as our King at the end of the age, is also among us in the present - in the here and now. I wonder how often we pause to realize that?
We encounter Him in the liturgy and sacraments of the Church, in the silence of prayer and contemplation, and in the faces of His people, and yes, even in the midst of commercial and cultural turmoil. He knows where we live and how we live and the anxieties we all face. In all these ways He makes His presence  known, He builds us up in the Love of God and neighbor.
The Word made flesh demonstrates God’s Love for us and just how much He regards His relationship with us. Our life in Christ has nothing to do with our riches and prosperity. It has everything to do with accepting that we are nothing, save the grace and mercy of God given in Jesus. What matters is not the beauty of our language or our liturgy, but our actions - actions that reflect and glorify Him.
He is not a gift we would have thought to purchase for ourselves in a million years. Beyond all utilitarian value and yet the only gift we all truly need. The coming of Jesus is an extravagant expression of incalculable Love; the Love of God for the world which He has made.
God has invited all of us here tonight to renew our commitment to the Christ-Child and to accept the herald angel’s invitation to worship the new-born king whose humble birth is a sign that points to the great things that God will do through Him for us and our salvation, and for the life of the world.
Christmas points to the Love of God for all people. Christmas points us to the young Mary who said “yes” to God’s invitation and to her child’s name, Immanuel, God with us. Christmas points us to God’s becoming one of us and suffering with us and for us so that we may become “partakers of the divine nature.”
I wonder, with all the commercial and cultural turmoil surrounding Christmas, just how much we truly take pause to realize that God so desires a Loving relationship with us, that He became one of us, so that we might become one with Him.
The Incarnation is a “mystery,” something we could have never imagined if it had not been revealed to us by God in Holy Scripture and confirmed again and again in all the ways Christ continues to make His presence known by building us up in Love - Love for Him and love of neighbor.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…And suddenly there was with the angel a heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is well pleased.” AMEN+


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