The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

Why are we here? Why are you here?

Why are we here, today, in this place, recalling in story and singing the praises of a child born centuries ago in land so far away from our experiences that it might as well be the planet Mars?

I suppose some might be here out of habit or obligation or sentiment, and some here have been compelled against their will. But for many, if not most, we have been drawn here by a greater power, lured by a mysterious story that once you have heard it, places a demand on you to gather here, and listen again, and listen as if you are hearing it for the first time.

The story is about the birth of a child, and not just any child, but a child whose coming was foretold by prophets, announced by angels, and feared by the powers of the world. This child was adored by shepherds, worshipped by magicians, and threatened by tyrants. Though a king, he chose to be born in poverty. Though powerful beyond all reckoning, he manifests himself in weakness. Though the eternal and ageless God, he becomes a child, who will grow into a man.

Yes, though he becomes a child, he is also God and thus in him the eternal enters time, the infinite dwindles into infancy, and God does what should be impossible for God to do- he takes on our flesh, accepting a human nature and in doing so, accepts as his own experience, gestation, birth, death and everything that comes in between.

The story is not like any other, for it is not just a story, but testimony to a revelation of God. What we hear, the revelation that demands our presence and attention, has happened in reality, at a particular place, at a particular time, and to particular people. The God who reveals himself as the child of Bethlehem is not an idea or an emotion, but a living, divine person, a person so real, that he manifests himself, not in myth or in legend, but in history, and he does so in real flesh and in real blood.

This is the great mystery of Christmas, the Christ-Mass that we offer today- the eternal God, in Christ the Lord, accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.

The one, true God, who accomplished this acrobatic feat of leaping from heaven to earth in the revelation of the Holy Child of Bethlehem, manifested that he is not a distant, cosmic force, magnificent in his being, but distant from his creation. Instead, he is God who is with us, and he is with us, not just in some things, but in all things, in all the events and circumstances of our lives, even in our suffering, even in our death- for God has, in Jesus Christ, entered into the fullness of all the facts of our existence.

So many people want God to remain at a distance or doubt he would ever show himself to us! Yet the one, true God, in Christ, comes in close and meets us face to face. The day of Christ’s birth was the day his face was revealed to us for the first time.

God’s revelation in Christ is the reason we are here.

But how can we believe in a revelation such as this?

The reason for our belief is deeper than giving assent to the facts of the story, for the story itself is not simply meant to give us historical facts or biographical details. There is a deeper power at work in the story and that power is the power of God himself. You see, the story is an invitation from God to recognize his own presence in the world and his own presence in your life.

The story of Christ’s birth calls out to you as a word spoken to you from God himself, a word that is an invitation to know him and enter into a relationship with him. That invitation appeared in the world some over two thousand years ago in the manifestation of the Holy Child of Bethlehem, and that same invitation is extended to you right now. You can come to know Christ the Lord and receive him. You can meet him face to face.

Once, he presented himself to the world as a child, and now he presents himself to the world in his Church.

This is why that if we choose to live in a distant relationship with the Church, we are de facto, choosing to live in a distant relationship with Christ. The Church offers us an encounter with Christ that is, in all its challenges, a real relationship to a real, living, divine person.

Alone we might know of Christ, or have an idea of Christ, or even a feeling of Christ, but none of these experiences, good as they might be, suffice to be a relationship with Christ. Relationships are deeper and more demanding. And the best relationships, demand the most from us, and are deeper than the depths of sea. This is what the Church provides us with, the demand and deepening of a relationship with God in Christ.

We are here, therefore, not just to listen to a story of Christ, but to enter into a relationship with him.

This is why this day is called the Christ-Mass, for it is in the Mass that the Lord Jesus offers us a relationship with himself. This invitation is extended to us in the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. In this Sacrament, we receive what the world received some two thousand years ago when God revealed that he had, in Christ, accepted a human nature- we receive Jesus Christ.

As real as is the presence of the Holy Child in Bethlehem is the presence of Christ in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.

Two thousand years ago, in Bethlehem of Judea, God invited the world to be in relationship with him as a living, divine person. Today, in this Mass, and in the Blessed Sacrament, he extends to you the same invitation.

What is given to us in the Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ, but the living and divine presence of Christ himself- the same living and divine presence who, revealed himself as a child in Bethlehem. Christ is not a symbol of God, but he is God. The Eucharistic Mystery is not a symbol of Christ, it is Christ himself.

What Christ offers to you in the Blessed Sacrament is his life, and in response to this gift, those who receive him have to make a decision: Christ gives his life to me, will I give my life over to him? Christ offers me a relationship, but will I live in such a way that I am truly in a relationship with him? Our reception of the Blessed Sacrament is, like all relationships, deep and demanding.

Now there may be some here, who do not know Christ, or who have become estranged from him, or have become content to remain passive or indifferent to his invitation to know him person to person.

Please know that Christ will not compel you to accept a relationship with him, but if you are here, it is no mere accident, and like those who came to the stable of Bethlehem some two thousand years ago, you might be ready for the story and the songs, but not yet ready to receive him. But the invitation is there, the Church is ready to help you, and Christ promises to receive you when you are ready.

All who accept his invitation also accept that their lives will change. A relationship with Jesus Christ does not just affirm us as we are, but changes us, transforms us, and makes us different. Receiving Christ in the Blessed Sacrament testifies that you want to change, that you are ready to be transformed and you are willing to be different.

The great revelation of Christmas, of the Christ-Mass, is that in Jesus Christ the manner in which God relates to us and we relate to God has been transformed forever. We can have a relationship with God that is as personal as meeting him person to person and face to face.

The Christ-Mass offers to us, in the Blessed Sacrament, the opportunity to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. But with that opportunity we have to make a decision- whether or not we are willing to accept this relationship or maybe we are not.

And to make that decision might not have been the reason you came here, but it is the reason for which God in Christ brought you here.

1622Gerard_van_Honthorst

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