Deacon Cornell’s Homily

Readings:    Mass at Night:
Isaiah 9:1-6
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14
Date: December 24, 2022, Christmas Eve

Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm; all is bright.

Every year we get these Christmas cards with these serene pictures of the birth of Jesus that just beam "Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm" at us. Whenever I see one of these I can't help thinking: Did the person who drew or designed this ever read the Gospel accounts of that first Christmas?

Christmas is not all calm and all bright. It is a messy feast, and has been from the start. And in some ways that is the point of the incarnation. So why do I say that Christmas is a messy feast?

Let's start with that very familiar Gospel passage from Luke that we just heard. It is hard for us to appreciate but the very fact of a ruler calling for a census in those days was considered very troubling. King David was punished for calling for a census in the 2nd book of Samuel and in the aftermath 70,000 people were killed. God made it clear to David that he was not happy with that decision. Typically a census was done to know how many soldiers the ruler would be able to draft for any war, or to determine the amount of tax to levy. As a result of this census, Joseph and a very pregnant Mary have to travel 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, probably a 4-5 day journey by foot (the Gospels make no mention of a donkey!)

They end up in a stable, most likely a cave, surrounded by the sounds and smells of livestock in a town that is jammed with travelers. And Luke tells us that during the night shepherds came right from their fields to visit the stable. Shepherds were the lowly of the low in that society primarily because they smelled so bad. And when we switch over to Matthew's account, we have the persecution of Herod and then the flight to Egypt.

It is a story of chaos and hurt and struggle. What we lose sight of sometimes is that this is exactly how God chooses to be among us. Our Catholic faith is an incarnational faith, which means that it is a faith lived out in the midst of real life with all its chaos and pain and struggle rather than some ideal vision we have only in our minds. This child, who is God-with-us, is with us in the most ordinary as well as the most extraordinary aspects of our lives.

While the promise of peace and love of that the birth of Jesus brings us, is an important and much needed message, I suggest that we need to understand that promise as one that is as yet to be realized. And perhaps more importantly, one that can only be realized if we help bring it to life.

You see, the birth of Jesus reveals to us in a humanly understandable way that God's plan is to make this world God's kingdom where no one suffers or goes hungry or is oppressed or at war. And God's plan for doing that is 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, that is, our mission: 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 Fr. Jeff and for all those staff and volunteers who work so hard to make our collaborative a true incarnation of God's love and forgiveness here in Acton, Boxboro, and Stow in 2022, 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.

Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm; all is bright.
It's up to us to make it so!

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