The Nativity of the Lord: Mass During the Night and Mass During the Day

Sometimes I wrestle with the question of what is the greatest feast of the Church year.  Easter comes to mind, and probably Good Friday, because it is through the events those feasts commemorate that we were saved from our sins and the possibility of eternal life in the Kingdom of God became real for us.  Lots of Church people would argue that Holy Week is the greatest time of the Church year for that very reason.  And I’m inclined to agree, except for one detail: and that detail is the feast that we celebrate tonight (today).

Today we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation.  It’s a great and holy mystery that tells us that God loved us so much, he couldn’t bear to live without us.  When we had gone our own way and wandered far away from him, he pursued us to bring us back.  He went so far as to become one of us: the Great and Almighty One, who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than all the heavenly hosts, this God of ours took on our frail human flesh to walk among us and touch us and bring us back to himself.  He so perfectly assumed our humanity that although he never sinned, he willingly laid down his life for us, paying the price for our sins, the price of a tortuous, ignominious death on a cross.  And far from letting death have the last word, God raised him up, gloriously throwing open the gates of the Kingdom for all to enter in.

This, brothers and sisters, is truly a great and wonderful feast!  It’s no wonder the angels sang on that glorious night!  If it weren’t for the incarnation – Jesus’ taking on our mortal flesh – there could never be a Good Friday or an Easter, there could never be salvation, never be hope for us.  But there is.  That’s the good news that we celebrate tonight (today) and every day of our lives.

Knowing God’s love in this way is the whole reason the Church exists.  That people would not know God’s love and not experience his friendship was so unthinkable to the early followers of Jesus that they went forth everywhere preaching the Good News of God’s love and grace.

So we come to this holy place tonight, gathered together to gaze on the gift of Christ in our Manger.  The message of this peaceful scene is that God wants to save the world.  He created us in love and for love, so he greatly desired in his grand plan that we would all come back to him one day and live forever with him in the kingdom.  But he knew that, steeped in sin as our world can be, fallen and flawed, as we individually can be, that we could never really return to him on our own.  We were – and are – too caught up in things that are not God and that are not ultimately going to bring us happiness.  So he knew that the only thing that he could do was to enter our history in a decisive way.

And he could have done that in any way that he pleased – he is God after all: all-powerful, all-knowing and present everywhere.  John’s Gospel, though, tells us just exactly how God chose to enter our history: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  He chose not just to visit us, but instead to become one of us, taking upon himself all of our weaknesses, our pain, and our sorrows.  He was born a baby: the all-powerful One taking on the least powerful stage of our existence.  He was born to a poor family and announced to an unwed mother.  The one who created the riches of the world and who himself was clothed in the splendor of the Almighty turned aside from all of it so that he could become one with his people.  Because he chose to take upon himself all that we must go through and then some, he is the way to salvation for all of us.

The only way that the full brokenness of our human form could be redeemed was for Jesus to take on all of it when he came to save us.  That’s why his birth was so messy, why he had to be born in a manger with all the farm animals, that’s why he never had a place to lay his head in all his life.  What is amazing is that, as wretched as our earthly lives can be sometimes, God never considered himself above it all, never hesitated for a moment to take it on and fill it with grace.

God didn’t take on our form so that he could become less, he took on our form so that we could become more.  So, yes, God becomes one of us and takes on all of our infirmities and weaknesses.  But in doing that, we ourselves become more than we could ever be on our own.  Our lowliness is filled with grace, our sadness is filled with rejoicing.  That was always the plan God had for us.

That’s our story.  It’s really important that we don’t forget it, even more important that we tell it to everyone we can.  It’s the best and really only reason for us to celebrate so joyfully every December the 25th.  Our story is what makes us who we are, what defines us as a Church and as a people.  The story of Christ’s Incarnation is what makes us a living sign of God’s love in the world.  That is who we really are, despite the world’s attempts to define us as something less.  The great gift of God’s love shines glorious light into every dark corner of our world and of our lives and calls us broken ones to redemption and healing and joy.

It’s crucial for us to live that story and not accept what others want to make us.  If you’re joining us for the first time tonight, or if you’re visiting family, or if you came here looking for something more for Christmas, then we welcome you and we hope that you experience Christ’s presence among us.  We hope that you find in your time with us and with the Lord tonight (today) a desire to go deeper in life and find the meaning of it all.  Please know that we would be glad to help you in that journey, and see our bulletin, or one of us, to point you in the right direction.  If you’re an active member of our parish family, then I hope the message that you receive tonight and your encounter with Christ tonight leads you to a desire to share Christ’s presence with others.

The Incarnation – the birth and personhood of Jesus Christ – along with his Passion, death and Resurrection, changes everything.  When we all rediscover Christ, the Incarnation can change us too, so that we may then go out and change the world around us.  When that happens in us, the angels will sing just as joyfully now as they did on that most holy night.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

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