Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Father Riley's 2018 Christmas Eve homily

CHRISTMAS EVE - C - 18                                LUKE 2. 1-20

I have been fortunate to travel to the Holy Land twice. Both times, I visited the Church of the Holy Nativity, which is located in Palestine. The Israelis have built a huge border wall dividing Israel from Palestine. In order to enter the city of Bethlehem one has to cross the border through a military checkpoint. Israelis are forbidden to enter.

I have often thought about the irony in that each time I read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, especially the angel’s message delivered to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to ALL people.”

The very people, God’s people, Messiah first came to save are the very people who today cannot enter the city of the Savior’s birth. It is controlled by Palestinian Christians, a fact that is often overlooked by the media when reporting the continuing dispute over that particular territory.

In addition, the Old City of Jerusalem is itself divided into ethnic quarters. There is the Jewish quarter, the Arab quarter, the Christian quarter, etc. The good news of a great joy, which the angels proclaimed has come to All the people, does not seem to resonate in our world today, not even in the world into which Jesus was born.

Divisions of religion, politics, and ethnicity exist in every corner of our world. Yet thousands upon thousands, from all corners of this same world continue to come to the city of David, as they did on that first Christmas Eve, not to be registered, but to see where the Savior of the world was born.

Perhaps some of you have been there as well. If not, when you go there, you will enter the church the crusaders built over the spot where the manger is said to have been. That spot is found in the floor of the undercroft beneath the high altar and is marked today by a star embedded in the floor.

To get there one has to queue up and take one’s turn descending a narrow stairway that leads to the star. Once there you are only given a moment to reflect upon the significance of that sacred space before being “moved on” by a heavily armed soldier. In retrospect I have often thought it must have been something like that the night Jesus was born.

Thousands were in the little town of Bethlehem and must have passed by the manger where the Christ-child lay wrapped in swaddling clothes between his mother, Mary, and her spouse, Joseph. They passed by without noticing the star overhead that illuminated that very spot.

If they did notice, they did not stop to reflect on what it might mean they were too busy with the business at hand. Besides that, they would have probably been “moved on” by soldiers as well.

The shepherds, on the other hand, were the fortunate ones. Not only were they the first to receive the good news, but the first to see the Christ-child and to pay him homage. After having seen, what the angel had told them was true; they became the first to go and tell what they had seen in the manger and heard from the angels to All they met.

It was a message, Luke tells us, which caused All those who heard it to marvel at what the shepherds told them. No matter how many times we have heard Luke’s version of that first Christmas Eve, it never gets old. There is something about it that re-kindles a flame within us, something that stirs the heart and mind in the message of the angels.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Like the shepherds, we have come this night to pay homage to God’s gift of Divine Love made flesh, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We have come to ponder in our hearts as Mary did just what His coming into our world, our lives, means to All who receive Him as their Lord and King.

We have spent these past four weeks preparing our hearts and our minds for this very night. We have done it many times before. Yet in order to realize the joy the coming of the Christ-child brings, we need to approach the manger as if for the very first time.

Those who heard it from the excited mouths of the shepherds, Luke says, marveled at what was told them. Like those who heard it first, we need to marvel at what we see and hear tonight in order to go and tell it to others with a renewed spirit of hope that Christ’s coming indeed brings joy, peace and love.

We need to show that the message of the angels has come to All by the way we live our lives in relationship to our neighbor regardless of his or her political views or ethnic identity.

Would not the walls that divide us come down if All would realize that Christ has come to rescue All of us from sin and death by the giving of His life for the life of the world?

If only we, who have received the angel’s message and believe it with all of our heart, would take upon ourselves in all earnest, the role of the shepherds and live our lives in witness to the good news of the Savior’s birth by praising and glorifying God with a Thankful heart for the Joy, the Hope, and the Love Christ‘s coming brings.

If only - What a different world it would be.

“Then, the angel said to them, ’Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to All people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  AMEN+

No comments:

Post a Comment