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home : from the bishop : from the bishop January 22, 2019

Bishop O'Connell's Christmas homily 2017

Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

Every year, the entire world pauses on December 25 to remember the birth of a Child — not just any child but the Christ Child, the Chosen One of God, the Messiah who had been prophesied and foretold from the beginning of human history.

When God created the world, God made it and everything within it good, a true reflection of himself.  But for some reason, God’s masterpiece of creation — humanity — decided that something was missing in the goodness of God’s creation, something more than God had revealed, something better than what man was given and, so, humanity reached out for that something — something that just wasn’t there in the complete goodness of God’s creation: sin, a way of life not part of God’s design, and completely other than God’s intended plan.  And from that moment forward, that experience, humanity longed for forgiveness, for restoration, for redemption, for salvation; from that moment forward, that experience, humanity longed to make things right with God again.  And it took the Christ Child’s birth we remember each December 25 to do so, to turn humanity back to the Creator.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light ... a light has shone,” the Prophet Isaiah explained in our first reading.  Although he prophesied hundreds of years before the events of Bethlehem unfolded, Isaiah’s vision became the reality we now know: “For a Child is born to us, a Son is given us; upon his shoulders dominion rests.  They named him Wonder-Counselor; God-Hero; Father-Forever; Prince of Peace.  His dominion is vast and forever peaceful.”  That vision, that reality, that fact of our faith is what the entire world pauses to celebrate today.  “The grace of God has appeared, saving all,” St. Paul wrote to Titus in our second reading.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the Child born in Bethlehem, is the grace of God, the power of God, the presence of God — Emmanuel, God with us — “the glory of our great God.”

It is Divine irony that all that was hoped for throughout the ages, all that grace and glory came to us not in any dramatic display of majestic earthly power but, rather, in God’s simplicity, in the birth of an innocent Child in surroundings anything but majestic or powerful, in a stable, “lying in a manger” as St. Luke’s Christmas Gospel reminds us.  That in itself speaks volumes.  Pope Benedict XVI reflected this way in his Christmas Eve Homily, 2006:

God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. … We too are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger.  God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him.

It was God’s desire to save us from within ourselves, from within our humanity by becoming one of us, taking on our flesh and blood and enduring the joys and sorrows of our nature from the moment of his conception by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin’s womb to his death — without ever losing his nature as God and without ever committing sin.  The innocence and simplicity of the Child in the wood of the manger remained his self-revelation until the wood of the cross.

This Christmas maybe we should give our attention to the innocence and simplicity of the Child and of the day and feast we celebrate.  Perhaps we should empty ourselves of all the complexity and pride and darkness we allow to creep into our hearts, our minds, our everyday lives throughout the year and just turn it all over to the Child, asking him to save us from darkness once more, again with his love and light. 

This week Pope Francis referred to the poetic writings of a 17th century German mystic as a Christmas meditation.  He quoted this monk as follows: “It depends solely on you. Ah, if only your heart could become a manger, then God would once again become a Child on this earth (Angelus Silesius, “The Cherubinic Wanderer”).”

This Christmas let’s make our hearts a manger for the Child again and open ourselves to what He alone can do for our world.  Merry Christmas.

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