THEME: THE SAVIOUR’S BIRTH
READINGS: Isaiah 52:7-10/ Hebrews 1:1-6/ John 1:1-18
Whereas the fortunate shepherds of Bethlehem got to know of the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ through the announcement by an angel, the chosen wise men were aided by a star. Despite the apparent difference in the channels of their knowledge, the shepherds and wise men had something in common – namely, it was by God’s favour or grace that they got to know of our Saviour’s birth.
Beloved, we did not hear an angel announce to us the Saviour’s birth nor were we led by a visible star to see Him, but we also have the grace of God – that which was common to both the shepherds and wise men. Thus, St. Paul writes: ‘Beloved, the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all’ (Titus 2:11; second reading of Christmas Night Mass).
Beloved, if our knowledge of the birth of Christ is by God’s grace (favour) and not by our own merits or efforts, then we should live soberly. This is affirmed, once again, by St. Paul: the grace of God trains ‘us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world’ (Titus 2:11-12).
Though this admonition of St. Paul applies to our whole Christian way of life, it is very crucial for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Christ. The way many celebrate Christmas in our time is anything but soberness and godliness. In fact, for many people, Christmas season is when they get drunk and display all kinds of ungodliness.
Furthermore, the aggressive nature of modern commercialization seems to further relegate the spiritual value of Christmas to the background. For instance, some Christmas cards say nothing about Christ’s birth or even mention ‘Christmas’; they simply say, ‘Season’s greetings’. Where is Christ, the reason for the season in this case?
In view of the above, this homily encourages us to place the right emphasis on the spiritual value of Christmas. This homily sheds light on only three of the several aspects of the spiritual value of Christmas: (a) the true joy of the Saviour’s birth, (b) amazing divine love and (c) sharers in divine nature.
(a) THE TRUE JOY OF THE SAVIOUR’S BIRTH
Yes, the birth of our Saviour has to be celebrated with joy. We, however, need to get the perspective right. It is not the food and drinks which make the celebration joyful; rather, the fact of His birth is the source of our joy. Like an overjoyed couple whose long-awaited first-born child is eventually delivered, so the people of God of old were expected to rejoice at the birth of the centuries-awaited Messiah. Thus, an angel announced to the shepherds: ‘behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people’ (Luke 2:10).
Moreover, as the Son of God, the birth of the Saviour rejoiced not only humans but angels as well. Thus, the choir of angels sang joyfully in praise of God: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!’ (Luke 2:14).
While the birth of a child brings joy, his/her birthday as an adult brings greater joy if his/her achievements are great. In that case, the celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ should be the most joyful since his achievements supersede all the achievements of mankind.
Furthermore, as the evil plots of King Herod and his associates could not distract Mother Mary, St. Joseph, the wise men, the shepherds and others from rejoicing at the Saviour’s birth, so no (past or present) problem (e.g. lack of money, food, drink, new clothing, etc.) should take away our joy in the Saviour’s birth. Therefore, whether we enjoy material prosperity or lack it, let us first and foremost rejoice in our hearts and minds, and express our appreciation to God for the birth of our Saviour. Again, if we are materially prosperous, let us eat and drink in the manner that befits the presence of Christ, the birthday-celebrant. In addition, if we are materially fortunate, let us, on the behalf of our Lord, invite the needy to dine with us.
(b) AMAZING DIVINE LOVE
‘When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Gal. 4:4-5). This sending forth into the world or the birth of God’s Son was as a result of the love of God (cf. John 3:16). St. John explains further this amazing love of God: ‘This is how the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4:9-10; GN).
The amazement of the love of God could be seen in several ways: firstly, that He gave us, not just one of His several Sons, but His one and only begotten Son; secondly, that He sent His only Son (not when we were obedient to Him but) when we were displeasing Him with our sinful acts (cf. Rom. 5:6-11); thirdly, that His Son was to make the ultimate sacrifice to atone for our sins; and fourthly, that His Son had to humble himself to take on the human nature which is infinitely lower than his divine nature (cf. Phil 2:6-11).
Beloved, in sending His Son, God loved us much more than one could ever express. His amazing and ineffable love should joyfully engage our minds and hearts this Christmas and beyond.
(c) SHARERS IN DIVINE NATURE
The third spiritual significance of the birth of our Saviour is the fact that by becoming human, He has made us sharers or partakers in the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4).
Consider this: not only is the human nature infinitely lower than the divine nature, our sins have made us infinitely distant from the divine (cf. Rom. 3:23); and yet because of the Saviour’s birth and the mission He fulfilled through His cross and resurrection, we have become sharers in the divine nature. That is, those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Saviour have been adopted as God’s children and as they faithfully live by His commandment of love they will eventually enjoy the heavenly glory forever (cf. 1 John 3:1-3). This is simply amazing!
Beloved, in this Christmas season, may the true joy of Jesus’ birth uplift our spirits, may our amazement of God’s love spur us on to love Him and our neighbour the more, and may our sharing in the nature of God become henceforth the yardstick for assessing anything we have or will ever desire to have. Amen!
I wish you all, A MERRY CHRISTMAS and A HAPPY NEW YEAR!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis
Image credit: The Nativity by Greg Olsen