~~My dear brothers and sisters, all of our ideals, all of our dreams of what we want to be, and of what our world can be… all of our visions and understandings of God, and of God’s ways with us, are focused now on a child… God’s Anointed One, God’s Christ. For a child us born unto us, a son is given us, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying powerless in a manger, there being no room for him elsewhere in our world for his birth.
It is a sacred moment into which we now enter, a precious moment, a holy hour observed all over the world in Midnight Masses. Midnight Mass gathers so many different people in a lovely moment of peace and happiness – Blacks and Whites, Asians, Africans, Latinos and Anglos…. Catholics, both active and devout as well as marginal and estranged, Protestants, members of others great faiths, and even doubtful believers with hesitant faith. It is a transcendent moment when we suspend business as usual, when we suspend suspicion and animosities, when we lay aside resentments and jealousies, push back our hurts and anger.
The Christmas story we have just heard once again presents us with tremendous vistas. They offer the possibility of transforming yet again our beaten up world and our humanity as we’re now living it; they offer us the invitation to take hold of God’s power and allow Him to re-shape our lives, our present condition, and our souls.
It is the prerogative of God to do such things. Isaiah’s cry once again reaches deep into our souls proclaiming:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness –
on them light has shined.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor
you have broken….
For a child has been born for us,
a son given us;
authority rests on his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah’s cry is a fitting introduction to the Gospel account just read, the Christmas story, the infancy narrative of Jesus Christ. It’s account is poised between the timeless fairy-tale quality of the Isaian passages and the all-too-real disregard of governmental officials, both back then and in our day, for the human dilemmas and human pain caused by official governmental policies.
The brutal taxing of the sweat of those whose work seems to be only for the government, along with the casting of the marginalized and the poor on to the charity of private citizens…. there’s no fairy tale in THAT, either back then or right now in our lives. The dislocation of the marginalized, along with their forced and undocumented migration, a fate in which Joseph and Mary and their Child have shared, is all too real and common among us even today. And the problem of lack of housing, lack of shelter for pregnant women (with it’s implicit message that they should abort their babies) along with Herod’s raging infanticide, remains the stuff of the print and electronic news stories we see each day.
And yet all of God’s promises, beginning with Abraham and renewed down through thousands of years of Israel’s history in all of her prophets, priests and kings, come to be focused still on the moment of Christ’s birth. A shaft of divine light with the quality of a laser beam shines down through the night’s darkness on to a manger, into a human body, in a baby miraculously and mysteriously conceived in a little virgin girl, a virginal life beyond human mental or physical conception, a life that comes only from God, unstained by human corruption.
In the darkness of our clutter and pollution, in our wasted energy and wasted lives, in the ruins of Jerusalem in which Isaiah cries out, in our deceptions both personal and in high public office, and in our aggressions – individual, racial and national, we hear it proclaimed once again that the grace of God has appeared, offering salvation for us all, calling us to righteousness, giving us reasonable expectation and hope that, YES, human life can be changed, redeemed and transformed. The amazing account we have just heard is the good news of amazing grace made human flesh.
In our darkness, how do we and interpret life? How do we interpret our own lives and the lives of our families? What light do we offer our sons and daughters in which to see and judge? Tonight we can turn to offer them a gift that can never be bought in any shopping mall… tonight in Christ’s Mass, Christmas Midnight Mass, we can offer them a gift that can only come from God, the reality and the truth that the life of God has become and still becomes human life. For Christ’s life is a life of undreamed-of intensity and healing, hope and transcending power…. along with a passionate love for each one of us here. All of God’s revelation becomes very clear, very real, and all too human… but in a way that offers extra-ordinary goodness, hope and meaning to any human life however buried and smothered underneath the ash and debris of human sin and degradation.
Some (perhaps) would demand that I present proofs of these assertions. The truth is that no proof would be sufficient. Why? Because where there is proof there can be no faith. Faith and proof cannot exist in the same soul and the same time. For faith is an act of love, just as love is an act of faith.
But I can offer you what Holy Mother Church has offered for 2,000 years now. I can offer you signs. And they are all around you, right now.
You are celebrating this Mass with very real people who have discovered that there is more goodness in our world than evil… that there is more good in their selves than they once thought before. You are among people who attend Mass each and every weekend, not out of obligation and fear of hell, but out of love. You are among people who are recovering their lives from addictions, who have undergone major conversions, and who have come to know Jesus in very personal, intimate and loving ways. You are in a parish composed of very significant numbers of people who have resumed coming to Mass after years of absence and alienation from our Church. You are surrounded by signs of Good News, a cloud of witnesses, who are focused here in this church on one stupendous and incredibly beautiful moment in human time and history… that moment when God joined Himself forever and for all eternity into ordinary people, took on ordinary human flesh and blood, and joins himself here into you and me.
Tremendous power, infinite faith, hope, love, goodness, wisdom and vision are all here…. for each one of you, and for me along with you. This is the moment when ordinary humanity is given the power to become extra-ordinary…the moment when ordinary bread and common wine become infinitely extra-ordinary… and when all that seems fairy-tale like in the telling becomes very real and very human in the living.
The eternal Word, that Word that is God, became quite human so that we might more easily see and understand… and more divinely live. It is Christ’s Mass, Christmas Midnight Mass, a precious moment that can become a forever of moments for you and for me, all because of a God who does not reject and despise your humanity and mine…. because He has fallen in love with us.
May that gift and that Good News be forever yours and your children’s, forever yours and mine and our friends’, forever a part of the blessed and wonderful life we share here in our St. Francis family of faith. And may all of God’s blessings be with you and yours in this forthcoming year, the forth prior to the 2,000th year in which we celebrate the origin of this precious hour, and in which we now together share in God’s extraordinary love