Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.
It was cold, rainy and muddy day in the winter of 1914,
when German and Allied forces faced each other
in the trenches of Belgium and France.
But as midnight approached, and the snow began to fall,
the Allied soldiers heard a strange but familiar sound
—the enemy soldiers were singing Stille Nacht: Silent Night.
Soon reports were widespread of German and Allied soldiers
coming out of their trenches to exchange Christmas greetings.
The spontaneous and unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 had begun.
What is it about this day that has this kind of effect on Christians
—even nominal, marginal or merely cultural Christians?
Why do wars pause?
Why are estranged families reconciled?
Why do strangers greet each other with warmth and good cheer?
More amazing still:
why are drivers kind to each other as they leave the church parking lot?
It is surely a day like no other day of the year.
And it’s been that way since that very first Christmas day, 2011 years ago.
A day that was so radically unlike any previous day
that it astonished even the angels in heaven.
The angels had seen so many amazing and wondrous things
almighty God had done.
They saw Him create the world out of nothing, and man in his very own image.
They had, literally, seen it all.
Still, they had seen nothing like this.
Majesty became humility.
Omnipotence became vulnerability.
Eternity entered time.
The Creator became a creature.
God became a baby boy.
How could this be, the angels asked?
And yet they knew the answer, and told us:
“nothing is impossible for God.”
And so, completely stunned, but with irrepressible joy,
they spontaneously broke into a jubilant song of praise to God,
As St. Luke tells us:
“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host …
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”
They were completely overwhelmed to see how far
the love of God would go to give his love
to sinful man.
For the angels knew man well.
They had seen how in the beginning Adam and Eve
had thrown away their unique friendship with God,
and how mankind had suffered from that loss ever since.
How, created in God’s image, man yearned and longed
to love and to be loved completely and perfectly.
And yet the angels also saw how men, in their weakness,
would be continually
confounded by God’s vastness and omnipotence;
confused by his incomprehensible wisdom;
and intimidated by his seemingly impossible call
to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
In short, the angels knew
that as much as man longed for God’s love,
man could never find the way to vanquish his fear of God.
But God had always known the way.
And he had told it to the angels,
but even they couldn’t completely understood it.
But now—now they understood it, because they saw it.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
“God chose a new way.
He became a child… dependent and weak, in need of our love.
Now – this God …says to us
– ‘you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.’ ”
And so the angels proclaim to the shepherds:
“Do not be afraid…”
“For today …a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”
Think about that: God has been “born,” become a baby, “for you.”
Not because it pleased him, or would add to his glory.
But simply “for you.”
Christmas is about God coming to us for us,
so that nothing would keep us from sharing in his love.
How often do we think about God as if he were so far away from us.
That he’s so much greater than us, he has no time for us.
And so we excuse ourselves from making time for him.
But at the first Christmas he said, in effect:
“Look at me—I have stripped myself of the glory of heaven,
I made myself weak, so that you could know me and love me.
So that I could to enter into a personal relationship of true love with you.”
Sometimes people say that Catholicism fails to emphasize this critical truth,
of Christ’s invitation to have a personal relationship with him.
Some say we emphasize God’s power and majesty too much,
especially in our rituals, like the Mass,
at the cost of obscuring the importance
of having a personal relationship with Him.
Friends, I don’t know about you, but I have never, in all my life,
felt that way about the Catholic faith.
Because the Church sees God and man as the angels do—just as they truly are.
The truth is that God is Almighty,
and majestically sits on His throne in heaven
while angels adore him and sing his praise,
and not only did he create this vastly complex universal
but continuously sustains it and orders it according to His will.
And the truth is we are merely lowly, sinful creatures.
And yet, the truth is also that
that all-powerful God, came into the world as a tiny baby,
all so he could be our brother, our friend, our most intimate companion.
We can never forget this dichotomy.
If we do, we reduce this tremendous gift to almost nothing
—just another guy who wants to hang out.
But that is not Christ, and that is not Christmas.
And that is not what makes
enemy armies lay down their guns,
or feuding families lay aside bitterness,
or sinners lay aside their sins.
Yet all this can happen when like the angels,
we see the whole picture:
He is a baby, so we can’t help but love him,
but he his God so we can’t help but adore and praise him
for his incredible generosity.
And where do we see this more wonderfully than at Holy Mass?
Where do we encounter more profoundly his invitation
to enter a personal relationship with the eternal God?
It is no mere coincidence that we call this day “Christmas,” or “Christ-Mass.”
We begin Mass by recognizing our sins
—humbling ourselves before God has he humbled himself before us.
We then join in the very song of the angels on Christmas morning,
stunned with wonder at God’s offer of reconciliation and friendship:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”
Then, like the shepherds listening to the proclamation of the angels,
we listen attentively to the readers and priest as they,
“bring [us] good news of a great joy.”
Then we all stand and profess our faith.
We begin by acknowledging,
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all things…”
But then we add:
“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God,
…[who] came down from heaven…and became man.”
Then we go on to the offertory.
Like the three kings offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh,
we offer our gifts of bread and wine.
And this is where things start to get truly wonderful.
Because these gifts are meant to symbolize us
—they represent us giving ourselves to God.
That’s why we say “lift up your hearts to the Lord”
—meaning give your very heart to him, give your very self in love!
Friends, how can the Mass not be about a personal relationship with Christ,
if it’s about giving ourselves to him—person to person?
And then we pause to remember, yet again, that the angels are here,
and that the one we worship is not merely a baby,
but also the God of heaven and earth,
as we sing the song of the angels from Isaiah:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
And we sing: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Who is that, but the Babe in the manger?
And then, we enter into the most incredible part of the Mass,
where God the Son himself, once again,
comes down to earth to be with us, in the flesh!
Once again, he humbles himself to hide his glory,
this time not in the appearance of a Baby,
but a simple piece of bread.
All so that we can approach him not in fear of his majesty, but in love.
But how can God come to us as bread?
How can God come to us a baby?
As the angels remind us, “nothing is impossible for God.”
And just as surely as the angels testified that the
“the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God,”
Christ himself testified about the bread: “this is my body.”
And then we approach Our Lord in the sanctuary,
just as the shepherds and kings once approached Him in the manger,
and “fell down and worshiped him.”
Then, just as Mary tenderly received her Divine Baby
into her arms,
we receive our Lord onto our tongue or onto our hands.
And here the mystery of Christmas,
of God coming to us in the flesh to enter a personal relationship with us,
is manifest in a most profound way,
as he gives himself to us and we give ourselves to him
in our Holy Communion with the Body of Christ.
My friends, the mystery of the Eucharist and Holy Communion,
is nothing less than a renewal and strengthening
of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
And that is the heart of Christ-Mass:
Almighty God the Son once again comes to us saying:
“‘you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”
Today is an incredible day.
But the thing is, as wonderful as this day is, every day can be this way.
Because Christmas is not simply about that one day 2011 years ago,
and it’s not even just about December 25th each year.
It’s about Almighty God’s tremendous love for us,
and his determination to let nothing hinder us from accepting his invitation
to enter into a deep personal relationship of love,
as his friend, his brother or sister.
And that invitation and friendship is renewed daily, constantly,
in the life of his family, his Church,
in so many ways,
most especially in this great gift we celebrate here today—the Eucharist.
Today is a day like no other day.
Warriors lay down their arms,
families set aside differences,
strangers cheerfully exchange acts of kindness.
And even angels are astonished by
the Almighty and Glorious Creator of the universe
who humbles himself to become one of his own creatures.
All so that he can beg man not to run from him in fear,
but to run to him in love.
“Do not be afraid…For today …a savior has been born for you
who is Christ and Lord.”