Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Nativity of the Lord – At the Midnight Mass

December 25, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 9:1-6
Psalm 96:1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

“In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.” The intention of Caesar was to count and to number those under his power as the Emperor of Rome. This census was a common experience for every person from every ethnic group throughout the Roman Empire. In so doing, Caesar imposed himself upon the people universally. In being forced to be enrolled, the people were reminded through the common experience of oppression and fear that they were to adhere to Caesar’s power as the universal emperor.

During this enrollment, Jesus Christ is born. He is the Son of God who comes into the world not to dominate everyone but to save them universally. The Christ child arrives not in a palace but in a stable, dank and musty. He comes not to demand the world’s capitulation to His power but to claim their love rightly owed to God. God makes Himself small and powerless as an infant and in so doing reveals the true integrity of our human nature and especially in relationship with God: powerless and dependent. The Infant is feared and hated by the powerful. They seek His life, and His family must seek refuge from the powerful in accord with God’s plans of salvation for us.

“Today is born our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.” “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” At the Easter Vigil we will sing of Him that He is the Son given away by His Father to ransom slaves — each of us — from sin. He is born again this morning in a world that is oppressed universally by a pandemic, aggravated by the machinations of those who would wield power, selfish intrigue, and political fear for financial gain. He comes to save us all — and He is still hated and feared by those elite with whose plans He interferes. He comes to claim our love.

The common experience of the enrollment by Caesar Augustus and the common experience of the pandemic and its political and financial effects do not bring us to solidarity and universal peace among human beings. These experiences, although shared in common, do not make us brothers and sisters nor lead us to a universal awareness of a common home. These experiences in themselves make us frightened, angry, and violent. Sin may be a common experience, but Christmas proclaims that it is not authentic to human nature or something that humans share universally in consort.

It is only in the Divine Infant of Bethlehem, the Christ Child, that we encounter our authentic human nature in its fullness and beauty and can become brothers and sisters to each other. It is only in the Baby Jesus surrounded by His Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph that we have a path to universal peace and respect for full human dignity. It is only in the Holy Child of Bethlehem in a manger that we see that human life is not futile, bitter, and stingy but meaningful, glorious, and loving. Today is born our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

I conclude with the words recently addressed by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to the members of his curia in Rome, “The birth of Jesus of Nazareth is the mystery of a birth which reminds us that ‘men, though they must die, are not born to die, but to begin,’ as the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt observed in a way as striking as it is incisive. Arendt inverted the thought of her teacher Heidegger, (a Nazi) according to whom human beings are born to be hurled towards death. Amid the ruins of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, Arendt acknowledged this luminous truth: “The miracle that saves the world, the realm of human affairs, from its normal, ‘natural’ ruin is ultimately the fact of natality (the innocence and newness of birth) … It is this faith in and hope for the world that found perhaps its most glorious and most succinct expression in the few words with which the Gospels announced their ‘glad tidings:’ ‘A child has been born unto us.’”

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