[Today’s homily was for the school children on their last day of school before Christmas break. UPDATE: Unfortunately, I didn’t get to celebrate Mass with them because they had a snow day. Rats.]
I can’t believe it but Christmas is only just six days away now! I know everyone is so busy writing letters to Santa, being good so they don’t get on the “naughty” list, wrapping Christmas presents for their parents, and baking cookies for Fr. Pat! But before we do all that, our Church asks us to take a minute and remember what it is that we’re about to celebrate.
And what we’re about to celebrate is pretty special. God loved the world so very much that he sent his own Son to live among us and bring us closer to him, and to take upon himself the punishment for all our many sins. God would rather die than live without us, and so he did. But death doesn’t have any power over us because Jesus rose from the dead. And all of this wonderful mystery begins in just six days, or at least that day a couple of thousand years ago.
And we know the story: An angel came to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because she was faithful, she said “yes” to God’s plan for her, and because she said “yes,” our world and our lives have been different – better, more hopeful – ever since! Jesus grew to be a man who was both mighty in his power to save us, and a wise prophet who helped us to learn about God and his kingdom.
And this reminds us of the two stories we heard in our readings today. Samson was a man who was mighty in the way that he led the people Israel. Just like Jesus, he was blessed by God and led by the Holy Spirit. His mother was visited by an angel, just like Mary, and his parents named him according to the way the angel instructed them.
John was a man who became a wise prophet and led the people to repentance so that they could recognize God and be open to the gift God was giving them in Jesus. Just like Jesus, he was blessed by God and led by the Holy Spirit. His father was visited by an angel, and he named the child in the way the angel instructed him.
Samson was a man of the Old Testament, and John the Baptist of the New Testament. The fact that their stories are so similar to the stories about how Jesus was born tells us that God has been preparing his people all along to be saved. He was getting them ready to recognize the way that Jesus was born among us.
And so, when we look on our mangers and see Jesus laying in there, we know that he came for a very specific reason. God sent him to be one of us, because it is only by being one of us that God could really save us. Jesus took on a body, just like all of us, and he experienced the same kinds of pain and sadness that we all experience from time to time. He even went so far as to die, just like we all do at some point in our lives, so that he could know what it was to be just like us. When we look at the wood of the manger, we know that one day, Jesus will die on the wood of the Cross. When we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we know that we will eventually remember his death and celebrate his Resurrection.
So today, we take a minute in all our busy Christmas preparations and shopping and wrapping and cookie making (I like chocolate, by the way…) – we take a minute and pause, and look at the baby Jesus, and know that by becoming one of us, everything was changed, everything was better. We thank God for loving us so much that he became one of us and gave us a gift better than anything we could ever ask for, better than any of the brightly-wrapped gifts we will receive in six days, the gift of eternal life with God forever one day.
A little later, we’re going to bring Jesus out to the manger and bless our manger outside. We’re going to sing the song “What Child is This?” which I think tells us everything we need to know about this special day that we call Christmas:
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!