Deacon Cornellís Homily


Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Colossians 3:12-21 or 3:12-17
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23


December 26, 2010, Holy Family Cycle A

Silent Night / Holy Night / All is calm / All is bright

Centuries of paintings, songs, and more recently, Christmas cards and movies and television specials have firmly planted in our minds this picture of serenity surrounding the birth of Jesus. To buy into it we would have to ignore today's Gospel reading.

Only Matthew and Luke give us a birth narrative in their Gospels, and the commentators tell us that each of those narratives reveals the whole Gospel message. We have grown accustomed to combining the two stories into one seamless account that has shepherds and magi showing up at the same stable. But they are two separate stories. Luke has the annunciation, the visit to Elizabeth, the census, the trip to Bethlehem and the shepherds. Matthew has the account of Joseph's struggle with Mary's pregnancy, and the story of the the wise men from the East, and then the flight to Egypt.

So what does the story we just heard reveal about the Gospel? Like the whole of the Gospel message, it has both good news and challenging news. And like our response to the Gospel in general we tend to idealize the good news and try to avoid thinking about the challenging news entirely.

So what is the good news that Matthew's story about Herod and the Magi and the flight to Egypt reveals? Someone once observed that if we think about the incarnation as God putting on humanity as if it were a suit of clothes, the amazing thing is that there were on alterations needed. Our humanity "fit" God right off the rack. Nothing had to be cleaned up or purged or isolated from the nitty gritty aspect of human life. God became human as tiny baby in the midst of a people who were oppressed not only by the Romans but by some of their own, such as Herod. Herod was a ruthless tyrant who did not hesitate to kill anyone who threatened him, including members of his own family. This flawed, oppressed, and sinful humanity still fit God when he put it on. In fact, only by God putting on this tattered condition does it become possible for humanity to be transformed into divinity.

Another aspect of the good news revealed by today's story is very timely: God understands what it means to be a stranger in a strange land. Some estimates place the number of refugees and exiles in the world at 11-12 million. This story can bring comfort to those who are experiencing this upheaval and separation from their homeland because it reveals that God has not abandoned them. In many places, people are experiencing this sense of not belonging without moving at all. It is their neighborhood or area that has been transformed into a strange place because of the influx of many immigrants. This story shows that we need to trust in God's understanding and care in these situations.

But, as I mentioned, this story is challenging news to us. It is no secret that there is a tendency in many religions to want to escape from the reality of life. I would suggest that most Catholics think that the only way to be "holy" is to become a monk or a nun and move to a monastery or convent isolated from the trials of life. It is convenient for us to think that because then we can look at our lives and see that there is no way we can escape from the world, so of course we don't have to think about being holy. That's for the cloistered monks and the nuns; it is for the "saints" whoever they are. This story challenges that escapism. In fact, as disciples, we are called to be holy in the midst of all that turmoil, just as Jesus and Mary and Joseph were holy in the midst of flight as criminals and exile.

The story is also very challenging to us in the midst of all the inflammatory rhetoric on both sides of the immigration issue. As one of the last stories in Matthew's Gospel reminds us, that judgment scene in chapter 25, we are to see Christ in everyone we encounter here. Jesus was an "illegal" alien; he was a political enemy of Herod, and he had no home. We are challenged to see Christ is every person, including those who are displaced. Note that I am not saying that this story imposes or even suggests a solution to the immigration problem. What it does do is to make it clear that any discussion about the issue must recognize that we are looking for a solution for Christ.

Another very challenging aspect of this story for those of us fortunate enough to live in Stow or the surrounding towns is that it shows that God does set a high value on "physical and material security in this world, even and especially for the 'best of families' (Elizabeth Boyle, O.P. in Preaching the Poetry of the Gospels, p60). So we need to have the courage to ask what it is that threatens the spiritual life of our families, especially our children.

We sing of a nativity scene that is calm and bright not because the world has made it so, but because God has come to dwell in this troubled world. We who are baptized are called to be the body of Christ that brings that calm and that brightness to the troubles of this world here and now.

Silent Night / Holy Night / All is calm / All is bright

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