Deacon Cornell’s Homily


All the Christmas Readings: Vigil, Midnight, and Day


December 24-25, 2011, Christmas

Who can tell me why God became human on that night 2,000 years ago?

About 15 or 16 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 he could have gotten to safety 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 thousands of years before Jesus was born, God had tried to get people to understand who God is and how God wants us to help finish creation. 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. Sometimes we pictured God as this powerful magician who would solve all our problems if we just behaved the right way.

And so human beings 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 God became one of us. Not as a powerful king or might warrior or stern judge. But as a tiny, defenseless little baby. Jesus spent most of his life out of the spotlight, growing up in a small family in a backwater town of a tiny occupied nation. For the last three years of his life he walked around, told people about God's love, but more importantly, loved the people he met. Some he gathered around him as disciples; some he met briefly and when they encountered this God of love in person, they were healed of sickness, freed of demons, some even brought back to life. Jesus told us in human language that God's plan was to make this world God's kingdom where no one suffered or went hungry or was oppressed. And God's plan for doing that was for people to encounter God's love and forgiveness in person and be transformed by it. And so Jesus commissioned his disciples to do just what he did here on earth: be the human incarnation of God's love. And because it is a big world, and so many people need to experience God's love and forgiveness personally to start to understand it, Jesus told his disciples to teach others, throughout the whole world, to do the same.

So that is the mission of the Church: to be the incarnation of God's love and forgiveness here and now so that anyone who needs that love and forgiveness can experience it personally. Some people are surprised to find so much sin in the Church. That is a little like being surprised at finding people with cancer at a hospital. We are about our Father's business: forgiveness. And most of us are here because we have experienced that love and forgiveness and are acutely aware of our continuing need for it. Some people don't see the need for organized religion. If religion was about getting to heaven that might be true. But Christianity is about bringing heaven to earth. That requires organization. It requires an organized presence of God's love so that those who are in need of that love know where to go. It is needed to have a building like this where a few hundred of us can gather to celebrate or to mourn or to give thanks.

So on this Feast of Christmas, I would ask you to say two prayers. The first is for those who work so hard to make our parish a true incarnation of God's love and forgiveness here in Stow in 2011, that they continue to try to make God's love available to those who seek it. The second is for those who find themselves distant from the Church, that they may have an open heart and mind to see if God is calling them to become an active part of this Body of Christ. God knows we can use the help!

Which ever group you put yourself in, thank you for being here today to celebrate Christmas. May we all continue to experience God's love and forgiveness.

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