Deacon Cornell’s Homily


All the Christmas Readings: Vigil, Midnight, and Day


December 24-25, 2005, Christmas

Did you ever stop to wonder why God chose to become human? I mean we have to believe that God didn't just wake up one morning and decide it would be fun to send Jesus to be born in a remote town of an insignificant country occupied by the mighty Roman Empire on a whim. God must have had a really good reason to send him.

About ten or twelve years ago, something happened that started me understanding what God had in mind. It was late October but we hadn't closed our pool yet because we had ordered one of those pool covers that would hold up an elephant from drowning. We still had the solar blanket on the pool to keep the bulk of the leaves out of it. We were getting ready school and work when we heard a commotion out in the pool yard. We all ran out to see a big black dog thrashing around at the deep end of the pool. He must have stepped onto the solar blanket thinking it would hold him, and had fallen in. The more he struggled, the more he became entangled in the cover. At first we tried to shoo him towards the shallow end and the steps where he could get out but anytime we came near him, he would start barking and struggling even more. I had the bright idea to grab the skimmer pole and try to get it in front of him so he could grab on to it, but he took one look at this long pole and became even more frightened. Well we finally grabbed the far end of the solar cover and pulled him towards the steps so he could scramble out to safety, and he took off into the woods. But I can remember thinking that if only there were some way that I could let him know that we were trying to help him; if only I could speak dog language I could have calmed him down and saved him sooner.

I think if we take a look at the Christmas story we start to see what God is trying to get us to understand. For more than a thousand years, God had tried to get his people to understand who God is and how God wants us to live. But we humans are a pretty stubborn bunch. We kept trying to make God over in our image, misunderstanding God as a powerful King who demanded tribute, in money, or food, or even human lives in order to keep God happy. Or we misunderstood God as a stern judge, ready to pounce on any one who did anything wrong and punish him. Or we misunderstood God as might warrior, who would fight against our enemies as long as we belonged to the right people, or said the right prayers, often enough or loud enough.

Despite the clues, we thought we could manipulate God into doing our bidding by offering sacrifices or building big temples. We thought that God only loved the rich and the powerful. We thought God was separate from our lives and only accessible through big festivals or displays of piety or in big temples or churches.

So if God really became human in order to tell us what God was really like, and what God's plan for salvation really is, what do we hear or see in this Christmas story? All too often we just see the Hallmark card scene as we hear gently in the background, "Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm; all is bright." Let's look a little closer at the reality.

If I understand God as the one who is going to do everything for salvation, what is God saying when we hear God waiting for Mary to say yes to the invitation to give a human life to God? What does it mean that God is radically dependent on the yes from this young woman? Mary is the least of the least: a woman in a culture that assigns no value at all to women; in a culture that is on the fringes of the known world, controlled by the powerful Roman Empire? And yet here is God holding his breath for Mary's answer. And what is God saying when Jesus comes as a tiny baby, completely dependent on humans for his very survival?

If I understand being holy to mean always calm, always bright,, what is God saying when we listen to Mary struggling with the messiness of finding herself pregnant before she is married? Or the messiness of having to travel to a tiny backward town with nothing and to give birth there, away from all the help she would have had at home.

If I understand God as asking us to do great big things to spread the good news, what is God saying by coming in human form at time and a place where he had no power, no influence, no technology for getting the message out to a wide audience? When the among the first to hear of his birth are shepherds, who were the lowest most despised rung on the social ladder. And the disciples he gathered were fishermen and tax collectors and the apostles he sent to spread the good news were a woman married 5 times and Mary Magdelene and the 11 disciples who denied him and ran away at the first sign of trouble?

If I understand that God is about punishment and identifying who is a sinner, what is God saying when Jesus returned love and forgiveness for hate and injury? When he died rather than resort to power and vengeance?

And if I think that belonging to a faith community is not important, what is God saying when he gathered a small group of friends and taught them to continue what he started?

What a wonderful, deep, messy, challenging story. I would encourage you to go home tonight and read it again. Read Luke's version tonight before you go to bed. And then when you get up tomorrow, read Matthew's version, maybe even before you open the gifts. May you all have a holy and blessed Christmas, now and forever.

homily index