Christmas 2010

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Penafort, Springfield, Va.

“Merry Christmas.”
Wonderful words, aren.t they?
Yesterday someone left me a message on my voice mail,
ending with a cheery “Happy Holidays.”
It was kind of them, and I appreciated it,
but I couldn.t help but thinking, “nooo…„Merry Christmas..”
Because words have meaning.
God bless „em, but “Happy Holiday” could refer to one of several “holidays”
I really don.t celebrate—including “winter solstice.”
But you say “Merry Christmas” and it means something wonderful:
the joyful birth of God the Son, Jesus Christ.

Words have meaning.
Last night at midnight Mass…
the Church read aloud
some of the most beautiful and meaningful words
ever spoken in all of history,
the words of an angel to certain shepherds 2000 years ago,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you
good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you
who is Christ [the] Lord.”

These words meant that the promises made long ago had been fulfilled:
the words spoken to David, Moses and Abraham,
words promising that God would send a messiah
to save his people, the Jews.
These words were a promise, and God kept his word, his promise.

But these angelic words also had a meaning
that went well beyond the Jewish people
—a meaning “for all the people,” as the angel said.
Because is it was the fulfillment of a promise
not simply to the Jewish patriarchs,
but a promise to the human patriarch and matriarch:
Adam and Eve.
Although the words were spoken as a curse
to the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve,
their effect was to be the hope of and a promise to “all the people”:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
[he said]
and between your seed and her seed;
….you shall bruise his heel,
[but] he shall crush your head.”

In these words, from almost the very beginning, God gave his word
that he would redeem man from sin,
and from the curse of death, suffering and fear,
and reconcile all mankind to his friendship.
This is God.s word, the word of God.

But the meaning of words “word of God” is even more rich than this.
If we go back even further, we remember the very first verses of the bible,
in the book of Genesis, that tells us that
“In the beginning…” God created everything out of nothing
by simply saying words.
“God said: “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
“God said “Let us create man in our own image”
—and man was created.

In the language of Holy Scripture,
God.s words are not empty sayings or mere letters on paper.
When Scripture says that God “speaks”, or when it refers to “God.s word,”
it really means God is revealing something about himself.
In many ways, “God.s word” is himself,
communicating himself to creation and to man.
So when God says something, we can believe it
because when God gives his word, he has given himself.

And so, as we read today,
St. John tells us, as he begins his Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God….
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.”
And in describing the very same message
that the angel spoke to the shepherds, that
“today ….a savior has been born for you
who is Christ [the] Lord,”
St. John tells us:
“And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father.s only Son,
full of grace and truth.”

Here we see how Scripture uses that idea of God.s self-revealing
—his word—
to describe how the very Son of the Father,
comes forth from the heart of Father,
to reveal and give himself and the Father to world.

And the core of this divine self-revelation can be summarized,
again, in a word.
And that word is “love.”
As St. John tells us elsewhere: “God is love.”
So that when the word became flesh,
Love, pure, perfect, infinite, omnipotent, divine love,
became a human being
—and Mary and Joseph named him “Jesus.”

And we see this divine love, revealed,
not just in the words from his human mouth,
but in everything he did in his human life
We see it in his early life as obeyed his human parents in Nazareth,
and as he sweated a living for his mother in the carpenter.s shop,
And then in his public life, as he fasted in the desert,
walked up and down the length of Israel,
and healed the sick, raised the dead,
corrected sinners, cleansed the temple,
and, finally, endured scourging, spittle, nails
and the cross..
And we see it magnificently
in his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.

But we see this love of God made flesh revealed most clearly,
most simply and purely,
in the event we celebrate today.
We see it in the face of the new born babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger.
We see in him the love of God who loves us so much
he would strip himself of his heavenly glory
and humble himself to be born in a stable.
Who loves us so much
he would come to us not at the head of a huge army, clad in armor, but as a completely vulnerable baby.

God has loved us from the very beginning,
and he has revealed this love in face of the baby Jesus.
God gave us his word,
his word has meaning and he has kept his word,
as his word has become flesh.

Of course, all this happened in history 2000 years ago.,
But before Jesus ascended into heaven he gave us his word again,
this time saying:
“behold, I will be with you always, even until the end of time.”
And, again, he has kept his word, and his word has meaning:
the word made flesh still dwells among us.
He dwells among us in his Church—His body in the world.
He dwells among us in his teachings proclaimed by the Church
in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.
He dwells among us in his sacraments,
the signs of his grace and truth
that speak to us in the flesh and blood reality of our bodies,
especially the Eucharist,
where the word literally becomes flesh for us,
and he physically comes to dwell inside us.

God has kept his word.
But the question now is this: do we keep ours?
And like His words, do our words have meaning?

Today is a day full of words—beautiful words.
You say “Merry Christmas” to family and to strangers,
and “thank you” for the gifts you receive.
Better still, you say “I.m sorry” to family and friends you.ve been angry with;
you promise to be a better husband or wife,
father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister….
you talk about how nothing.s more important than family.
You say “I love you” in so many ways.

But tomorrow, or next week, will those words be worth anything?
If not, do they really mean anything today?

A few minutes ago, we all said together:
“I confess to almighty God,…
that I have sinned through my own fault.”
And in a few moments all of us will stand and say the words of the Creed,
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
…[he] was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
And then we continue:
“We believe ….in one holy catholic and apostolic Church…”

And after almost every prayer we pray today, you say “amen.”

The word “amen” has a meaning:
it means “yes, you.re right, I believe that.”

But all words have meaning.
Do we mean what we say today?
Are we sorry for our sins?
Do we believe in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God,
and that he became man and was born a tiny baby
2000 years ago in Bethlehem?
Do we believe in all he revealed to us,
and continues to teach us through his Church?

This is what we say…these are our words.
If we mean all this, the question is, do we keep our word?
Do you live the life Christ revealed to us
—can anyone tell from the way you live that you believe
that Jesus Christ was born
and still dwells here on earth?

Today we hear the voices of the angels echoing over 2000 years:
Listen to the words of the angel proclaiming the news of great joy,
and sing “Glory to God” with the heavenly hosts.
And in the tiny baby born in Bethlehem,
see, believe and rejoice that God means every promise he makes,
and that he always keeps his word,
and gives you his grace to do the same.

Today I pray that you may have
a truly blessed, holy—and “merry”—Christmas.
But more than that,
I pray that the Word made flesh may always dwell with you,
and that you may always dwell with him,
and recognize his love as clearly as you recognize it today,
in the face of the
“infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”

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