THEME: O COME, ALL YOU FAITHFUL
READINGS: Isaiah 52:7-10/ Hebrews 1:1-6/ John 1:1-18
The theme of this homily, “O Come, all you Faithful”, is the title of a favourite Christmas hymn or carol. This Christmas carol was originally written in Latin (as Adeste Fideles), probably in the 17th century; and it has been attributed to various authors. The original carol in Latin had four verses but later on four more verses were added. It has been translated into many languages; and it seems that the translation in 1841 by the English Catholic priest, Fr. Frederick Oakley, is the first English translation.
INVITATION TO BETHLEHEM
The first part of the first verse of the carol reads:
“O come, all you faithful,
joyful and triumphant,
O come you, O come you, to Bethlehem…”
Thus, there is an invitation to Bethlehem to all the faithful of God – to all of us. It is an invitation by God. Apparently, the first “invitation card” was delivered by an angel of God to the privileged shepherds of Bethlehem on the very night of the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This first invitation to Bethlehem was accompanied by a spectacular funfair of the joyful singing by a choir of angels (Luke 2:8-13). Subsequently, God sent an invitation to the Magi (wise men) via a “heavenly drone”, i.e. a star (Matt. 2:1-2). Then, He sent to King Herod the Great and the people of Jerusalem an invitation through the “curia service” of the wise men (Matt. 2:1-8). Since then and for 2,000 years and counting, God has been inviting us to travel to Bethlehem in our heart.
BETHLEHEM IN OUR HEART
What is the Bethlehem in our heart? We find the answer to this question in the stories of the shepherds and Magi who journeyed to the physical Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Firstly, the shepherds found the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, as well as His mother and St. Joseph; and they glorified and praised God (Luke 2:12,16-20). Secondly, the Magi found the Child Jesus and His mother; they worshipped Jesus and presented gifts (Matt. 2:9-11).
From the above, I wish to draw our attention to six (out of the several) ways by which we can journey to Bethlehem in our heart, not only on Christmas day but every day:
a) The Christmas carol invites us: “O come you to Bethlehem; come and behold Him, born the King of Angels”. That is, the invitation to Bethlehem is primarily to see the King of Angels who has been born as a little Child. This is exactly what the shepherds and Magi found in Bethlehem: the little Child Jesus. Now, though divine, the human Baby Jesus appeared helpless in the midst of a sinful world that needed salvation (cf. Heb. 1:1-4; cf. John 1: 1-14). Therefore, anytime we feel helpless in difficulties, and yet believe in Jesus as our divine Saviour, we are encountering Jesus in His seemingly helpless state as the Baby of Bethlehem. For instance, our steadfast faith in Jesus as we feel helpless in the midst of the CoViD-19 pandemic is a journey back to Bethlehem. Now, though the shepherds saw a helpless Baby, they believed in the message of the angel that He is the divine Saviour of the world (Luke 2:10-11). Similarly, we experience Bethlehem in our heart, when we are absolutely convinced that Jesus will eventually save the world from the pandemic.
b) The shepherds saw the Baby Jesus not in His heavenly royal robes but in poor swaddling clothes; and they found Him lying not in a celestial bed but in a poor manger, a feeding trough for domestic animals. This is sublime humility! for Jesus did not only strip Himself of the manifest majesty of His divinity, but He also humbled Himself to the point of being associated with the poorest of the poor: the homeless and penniless. St. Paul eloquently captures this: “Christ Jesus, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself” the more (Phil. 2:6-8). Whenever, therefore, we take on this humble attitude of Jesus (cf. Phil. 2:5), we journey to Bethlehem in our heart.
c) The shepherds testified that they had received a message from an angel of God about the birth of the Saviour; that they had seen angels singing; that what the angel said was exactly what they had witnessed in Bethlehem; and they praised and glorified God (Luke 2:16-20). Similarly, anytime we testify to what God has done for us or He has done to save the world, we journey to Bethlehem in our heart.
d) The Christmas carol invites us: “O come, let us adore him, [3X] Christ the Lord.” This was vividly demonstrated by the Magi: they prostrated and worshipped Christ the Lord. Therefore, anytime we worship or adore our Lord we journey to Bethlehem in our heart.
e) The Magi generously presented to the Lord gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11). Similarly, whenever we cheerfully present gifts to aid the spread of good news of salvation in Jesus, we travel to Bethlehem in our heart.
f) The shepherds and Magi encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph when they visited the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem (Luke 2:16; Matt. 2:11). Thus, sound devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and the other Saints is when our Lord Jesus is the focus. Now, whenever we practice such devotion to the Saints, we journey to Bethlehem in our heart.
KING HEROD’S RESPONSE TO THE INVITATION
Whereas the shepherds and Magi responded favourably to the invitation to Bethlehem, King Herod responded with anger and violence. Consequently, many innocent children, probably in their thousands, were killed (Matt. 2:3,16-18). This truly terrible and unfortunate massacre took place because the king refused to accept the invitation to Bethlehem, to find peace in Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Similarly, anytime we resort to anger and violence, we refuse to accept God’s invitation to Bethlehem to meet the Prince of Peace.
Beloved, this Christmas and always, let us not follow the example of King Herod who chose the path of anger and violence. On the contrary, like the shepherds and Magi, let us accept God’s invitation to Bethlehem. Let us journey to Bethlehem in our heart by believing that Jesus will eventually save the world from the pandemic before which we feel helpless; by taking on the humble attitude of Jesus who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger; by testifying to what God has done and He is doing; by worshiping or adoring our Lord; by cheerfully offering gifts to aid the spread of good news; and by practicing devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and the other Saints. Finally, as the shepherds and Magi departed joyfully and victoriously, may we also experience lasting joy and victory as echoed in the Christmas carol: “O come, all you faithful, joyful and triumphant”.
I wish you all, a joyful Christmas, and a triumphant New Year!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis