The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

Today the Church here and throughout the world commemorates the Nativity of God in Christ, which means, that today Christians remember the astounding revelation that God was born into this world as child. The eternal God, the one, true God, did something that seemed not just unseemly, but impossible for him to do- God, in Christ, accepted a human nature and lived, like all of us, a real, human life.

God’s acceptance of a human nature was not a mere ruse, but like us, God allowed himself to gestate for nine months in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   God was born into the world in the same manner we are all born into this world. God was born into a particular family, in a particular place, on a particular day and at a particular time. As Christians, we testify that the birth of God in the world as a child is not a myth or a legend, but a fact of history, indeed this revelation reveals the meaning and purpose of history itself.

Jesus Christ is not a symbol or metaphor signifying whom Christians think God is. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. With the birth of God in Christ into the world, eternity enters into time and infinity dwindles into infancy.

The scriptures proclaimed for Mass this morning all gesture towards the revelation of God born into this world.

From the Prophet Isaiah, perhaps the most eloquent of all the Biblical prophets, he speaks of the purpose for which God has come into the world- to be our king, and to be a king who will set right a world that so often goes so terribly wrong.

The world will see, the prophet Isaiah predicts, that the Lord will reveal to us his holy arm, indicating to us that his revelation will take the form of flesh that can be seen and grasped. The Lord’s Holy Arm is revealed to the world for the first time as the tiny arm of the Christ-Child lying in the manger.

Today’s second scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, testifies to the identity of Jesus Christ as God. Attempts to reduce Christ merely to a prophet or teacher or social activist or spiritual guru, all fail to express the truth about who Jesus Christ really and truly is. The reductions of Christ’s identity to a prophet or teacher or social activist or spiritual guru are all really forms of aggression against him, attempts by us to control him by positioning him within categories that we can manipulate for our own ideological and political purposes.

The Letter to the Hebrews insists that it is through the revelation of Christ’s humanity that we encounter the revelation of his divinity and this revelation of Christ as God, reveals who God really and truly is.

In our encounter with Christ’s revelation as God we are compelled to abandon the categories that we impose on him. These are exposed as attempts to make God into someone or something that we prefer, rather than accepting God for who he really and truly is. God in Christ demonstrates that God cannot simply be the idea or feeling that we would prefer him to be. Nor can we accept that God is merely some kind of cosmic force that can be manipulated for our own purposes.

God in Christ is boldly himself, and we either accept him for who he reveals himself to be, or not. The revelation of God in Christ demands of us a stark decision- do I believe in him and pledge my life in service to God in Christ, or to some other god, a false god of my own making.

This decision for or against Christ is particularly urgent in our own culture, which tends to relativise all claims about God as mere opinions (or feelings), with God becoming nothing more than whatever it is that we prefer God to be.

The revelation of God in Christ resists all this, for his revelation is so particular, so concrete, so specific, that he thwarts our attempts to make him into anything or anyone we want.

For the Christian, our decision for or against God is always a decision for or against Jesus Christ. There is no equivocating in this regard. Not to decide is to make your decision and the decision is no. Not to decide reduces us to spectators, rather than participants in the life the Church.

Perhaps there are social benefits for being merely a spectator, rather than a disciple, but there is also little, if any, blessing or grace as well.

We either believe in Christ or we don’t. We either serve Christ or some other gods.

If our decision is for him, then our lives are at his service and we have to change- for Christ. He doesn’t change for us. He is always serenely and boldly himself. We don’t make him who he is- he makes us and invites you to be the person you are supposed to be.   The meaning of life that we all seek and the purpose of life that we all aspire to possess are given to us when we make our decision for Christ and accept him for who he reveals himself to be.

Christians are those people who have made their decision for Christ.

The Gospel for the Christ-Mass of Christmas Day is the beautiful prologue of the Gospel of John.

This Gospel is off putting for many, who coming for the Christ-Mass of Christmas Day, expect the story of Christ’s birth with its imagery of Christ’s Mother, her spouse Joseph, the stable, the manger, the angels, the shepherds and the star. None of this is mentioned by John.

Instead, John directs our attention, not to the traditional elements of the story of Christ’s Birth, but his emphasis pertains to two essential truths- that Christ is God and that God has come into this world in Christ “in the flesh”.

We might think of the birth of God in Christ as a baby to be something sentimental and sweet, and we think this way because the story has become all too familiar and sanitized of its genuine reality.

The real story, the raw story of the birth of God into our world is not neat and clean, and proves to be as bitter as it is sweet. God in Christ immerses himself into the raw facts of the human condition. He is not born into flesh softened by luxury or modern conveniences. He takes on flesh hardened and calloused by poverty and labor, spends his early childhood as a refugee and learns to earn his daily bread with the work of his own strong hands. His love for us went unrequited and the flesh, the body, he accepted so as to meet us and become our friends, would suffer the torture of our refusal and the agony of death on the cross.

This flesh, this body, would rise transformed and transfigured in the Resurrection and it will be his flesh, his body that will one day greet us all when he meets each and every one of us face to face.

In other words, the story of Christmas is not just a story, that we can reduce to a pleasant mid-winter’s tale. Christmas is about a real event, a fact of history. It is a matter of flesh and bone, of muscle and sinew of body and blood.

And thus do Christians come each year to the Christ-Mass on Christmas Day, because it is here that the same divine life and presence that was born into this world in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus can be adored and received in the Body and Blood of his Blessed Sacrament.

The proclamation of God come in the flesh in today’s Gospel directs our attention to the birth of God into the world over two thousand years ago in the little town of Bethlehem. God is born into our world and comes into our lives, not as merely ideas or feelings or opinions. God does not present himself to us as a book or as a building, but he comes to meet us in the flesh, in a body. But today’s Gospel also insists that we accept that same Body of God in Christ that presented himself to the world centuries ago continues to offer himself to us, and extends his Body to us, as a gift, across space and time, and that Body of Christ meets us here and in this Eucharist, “makes his dwelling among us”.

The dwelling of Christ here, among us, in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood is as significant for our salvation now as the Body and Blood of God in Christ that was born into our world in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago.

We are not here simply to recount the tale of Christ’s birth, sing songs to his praises, or share with one another feelings of holiday cheer. We come to the Christ-Mass to adore and receive him.

For it is here, at the Christ-Mass (indeed in every Mass!) that we see and receive in the Blessed Sacrament “his glory”- “the Word become flesh”- Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity- the glory of God given to us now and full of grace and truth!

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