29 Dec Christmas-Father Shawn Hughes
December 24, 2016 5 pm, 7:30 pm
Father Shawn Hughes
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.
God bless you.
A warm, warm welcome to each of you as we gather this evening to celebrate the birth of Our Lord and Saviour, fully God and fully man. All are always WELCOME…you are all so very welcome here this sacred night.
It is interesting how over the years we all develop favourite Christmas stories which speak strongly to us over and over again each year. Mine is about a young lad named Billy whose Grade Two class was presenting The Nativity Play as part of their Christmas Pageant. Billy had his eye on one of the big roles. He really wanted to be St. Joseph, or possibly one of the Kings, or even a shepherd. Any of those would be great. But, you might know it, since everyone had to have a part Sister Helen, his teacher, gave him the role of an innkeeper. Now if there are any villains in the Christmas story it’s the innkeepers. And to add insult to injury they only have two lines: “What do you want!!” and “Sorry, no room.” So in the play, each of the innkeepers was lined up behind cardboard doors. Mary and Joseph would go along and knock. The cardboard door would swing open and a gruff voice would ask: “What do you want?” Joseph would say “Please sir, do you have room for my wife, because she’s going to have a baby” The innkeeper would say “Sorry, no room!” and they would slam the door. Then they came to little Billy. Joseph knocked on the door. Billy opened it up and Joseph said to Billy: “Please sir, do you have room for my wife, she’s going to have a baby.” And Billy said: “Sure come on in!” Now, as you can imagine, this kind of halted the Christmas pageant. So poor Sister Helen after recovering from her near heart attack, frantically bustles out of her seat in the front row and runs up and whispers in Billy’s ear and they replay the scene and Billy this time sadly says “Oh sorry no room, you gotta go somewhere else.”
Well afterwards, Billy was sort of the star as you can well imagine. Everyone was crowding around him and asking, “Billy, What happened? Why did you change the line?’ And Billy simply replied: “Wouldn’t it be sad to say there is no room for Jesus! I can’t imagine not having room for Jesus.”
What will our answer be to Jesus? “Sorry, no room!” or “Sure, Come on in!”
God never forces himself upon us. He proposes. He never imposes. He waits for us to be like Billy, to open up and let Him in.
Bishop Robert Barron, one of the great Catholic leaders and preachers today, proposes that the greatest problem we face at Christmas time is the domestication of Christmas. Often today Christmas is seen primarily as a nice little sentimental, family day…But if that is the case Bishop Baron suggests something essential is being missed. Christmas he argues is a subversive feast from a Christian standpoint.
Look at the Gospel of Luke, the great Christmas story that we have just heard. It is a very confrontational story. It begins by invoking Quirinius, who is the Roman governor of Syria and Caesar Augustus who is the king of the world at that time. Caesar is doing, a very new, very powerful thing. He is declaring a census of the entire Roman world. That is what powerful people did. You take a census of your kingdom. It allowed you to contact your people more effectively. You can draft them into your army. You can tax them much more effectively.
But the writer of the Gospel of Luke is not interested in the governor or the emperor. He is interested in this new baby king
He’s born, not in a palace that is where Caesar Augustus, kings of this world, would be. But the writer of the gospel of Luke is saying, the real King, the new king…there isn’t even a room for him in the inn in Bethlehem. He has to be born in a stable a cave where they wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.
The freest person in the ancient world would be Cesar Augustus. He could do whatever he wanted from a worldly point of view. He could command and his will would be done.
But this new baby king, God become man, is actually wrapped up in swaddling clothes. The true king is not the one who has worldly power. The true king is the one who is bound up…bound to the other in love. He becomes weak for the sake of the other. Not self-focussed. But completely other focussed.
Not the one who is well protected in his palace but the one who is willing to become vulnerable in love. He is placed in a manger which is the spot where the animals come to eat. Caesar Augustus would be the best fed person in the ancient world. The real King, the real leader, Luke is telling us, is not the one who feeds himself but the one in the manger the one who will become food for the world. Being laid in a manger is an anticipation of Jesus’ whole life culminating at the Last supper where he says: “This is my body this is my blood.” His Body is the real food that gives real life. In the Ancient prophecies Christ is called Emmanuel. God with us. And he continues to be God with us in the Eucharist and in all the other sacraments.
The Angels are prominent in the Christmas story. In our society we are kind of sentimental about the Angels. However in the Bible a typical response to an angel is fear. It’s not “ah isn’t that nice?”
In tonight’s gospel the response to the angel is fear. People are overwhelmed when the supernatural reality of heaven has broken into the world. Angels always say don’t be afraid. The angel brings good news. He is the first evangelist.
And what is that good news? A new King has been born. Not the old one in Rome. Not a worldly king, but this new one who is the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. That’s the real King.
Luke says there is a whole host of angels, it literally means an army of angels. Again who had the biggest army in the ancient world? Caesar Augustus. But Caesar’s army, Luke is saying, is nothing compared to the army of the baby. The baby has an army, a real Army an Army of angels. And they have as their weapons, the weapons of heaven. Not the pathetic worldly weapons. But the weapons of love: compassion forgiveness, mercy, nonviolence. And this baby King is in charge of this army.
Christmas is not the way of worldly success, worldly power, worldly comfort. It is the way of love, compassion, repentance, mercy and nonviolence.
Which army are you with? That is the question of Christmas. And that is why the message of Christmas is a deeply subversive one. Don’t domesticate it. Don’t turn it into just a family feast. There is nothing wrong with a wonderful family feast. But we can’t reduce Christmas to that. We need to allow its spiritual power to come shining through.
Many of you this evening we don’t see at other times of the year. I’d like to speak directly to you for a moment. First, I’d like to say you are very welcome here tonight. However, if you don’t come the rest of the year you must be undecided which army you truly march with…that of the world or that of the Lord’s. Here at St. Mary’s we have been trying to address this…by reaching out to you who have major questions about the Faith: to those of you perhaps who do not believe at all, to those of you who have become so enmeshed in the world that you can’t clearly find your way back to the practice of your faith. We’d like to talk with you. And the initial tool for discussion is a course we offer here…the Alpha course…a course designed to introduce you to the first proclamation of the gospel…to introduce you to Jesus.
Wednesday, beginning Jan. 18th, we will gather over 10 weeks, and begin each session with a wonderful meal together, watch a DVD teaching and break into small groups were you are free to participate or not, where everyone’s position is respected. We offered our first course this past Fall and to a person of the 70 who completed the course found it predominantly a positive experience. They indicated that now they feel more at peace and that they found a new sense of meaning and a new purpose in life through that experience of Jesus. They also discovered a supportive community here at St. Mary’s where friendships grew and where people truly care for each other, where they are accepted for who they are and not as the world sees them.
You’ll notice an ad for Alpha in the front of your Mass program (5:00 Cathy and Steve Holland, 7:30 Mary Hitchcock and Nancy Cosgrove), who have taken the course, will be at the back after Mass taking your contact information should you be interested in registering. They’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. If you find it hard to believe, if you have big questions, if you are unsettled by the emptiness of your world without faith, if you lack meaning, hope or purpose. This course is for you. The Catholicism 201 course is a follow up course that completes Alpha by providing what Alpha does not cover, the establishment of the Church and her Sacraments by Christ Himself
I think we would all agree with Billy in the Christmas pageant story I mentioned at the beginning: “I can’t imagine not having room for Jesus. “Wouldn’t it be sad to say there is no room for Jesus!”
Which King are we going to march with? The King of worldly success, worldly power, worldly comfort…or the baby king whose kingdom is the way of love, compassion, repentance, mercy and nonviolence? The true celebration of Christmas demands us to make such a choice.