TEXT: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord – Christmas – December 25, 2019

December 27, 2019 Father De Celles Homily

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord


December 25, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


He was born in a shelter where they kept the livestock,

a “stable,” maybe a barn or dirty cave.

It was a cold night in late December,

maybe with snow or freezing rain falling all around outside,

maybe with a wind blowing it into the entrance of the cave,

or through the holes in the walls of the barn.

And then they laid Him a manger—a food trough for animals.



Why did the creator of heaven and earth, God the Son,

chose to become one of us?

And why did He have to come to us as a tiny Baby?

And why did He have to be born in such miserable conditions?


The simple answer is that God, in His wisdom, knew

that only man could atone for the sins of man,

but only the power of infinite eternal God could make up

for sins against the goodness of infinite eternal God.

So God had to become one of us

—and in all things, from birth to death, good times and bad–

so that as both God and man

He could atone for and save us from our sins.


But there is another reason God the Son

had to be born into the world this way,

a reason we must not forget today.


We read in tomorrow’s/today’s Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This reminds us that the eternal God the Son,

entered into time and became a man not only to redeem us,

but to speak to us:

to tell us about Himself and the Father,

and to teach us what life is really all about.


St. John calls Him the eternal “Word” of God,

because He communicates God to us.

So that, all throughout the Old Testament, when God speaks to His people,

in some mysterious way, it is the Son in action.

But in the fullness of time God chose to speak to His people directly,

face to face,

and so the Son, the Word, became a man, Jesus, and spoke to us.


And that speaking did not just begin when He was an adult,

as He walked up and down the roads of Israel teaching and preaching.

Rather He began teaching us on that first Christmas morning

as a tiny little Baby.


Now, some might protest, “babies don’t speak.”

Well, tell that to a mother of newborn baby crying in the middle of the night:

to you and me it sounds like crying, but to her he is clearly saying,

“feed me, mommy,” or “I’m scared, mommy.”

Or tell that to a pregnant mother: when the baby kicks he says,

“here I am, I’ll be out soon.”


Babies say a lot without saying a word.

They say to us, “innocence,” they say to us “new beginnings,”

they say to us “protect me.”

But most importantly they say: “love me.”


In a beautiful homily at Christmas Midnight Mass many years ago,

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about how man can be intimidated by God

—either by His majesty and power,

or by the demands He makes of us,

and sometimes by a combination of both.

So it’s easier to walk away from Him,

or to assume that He doesn’t have time for us,

or simply ignore His existence.


But then Benedict went on to teach, [and I {quote}]:

“Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child.

He made Himself dependent and weak, in need of our love.

Now – this God who has become a child says to us

– you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”


“You can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

“Love me.”


In a sense, this is nothing new for God:

after all, He created Adam and Eve

simply so that He could love them, and they could love Him.

And even after their original sin,

and through all the sins and betrayals of mankind

over all these millennia,

he still continued to offer mankind His love,

and invite them, to “love Him.”


So, is it surprising that when He enters the world to save us

—to reconcile us to His Father’s love,

and to teach us about His love, and how to love,

God the son enters as a tiny Baby,

whose very existence seems to coo: “do not fear me, love me”?


And the Babe says even more than that.

He says:

“I am the all-powerful God, but I have made myself vulnerable for you.”

Again, this vulnerability is nothing new for God

—since Adam and Eve

he has exposed Himself to the wounds of our rejection and sin.

But now the Word becomes flesh

—and the vulnerability of the Babe speaks in a clear and human way.

A vulnerability that becomes even more apparent soon after Christmas,

as King Herod orders His execution.


And finally, He is born in the most miserable conditions:

in a strange city,

away from family and friends who might assist His parents

in protecting and caring for Him,

and in damp dirty stable, on a cold late December day.

Again, He speaks, saying: “I come to suffer.”


It’s interesting, some argue that Christ was not actually born on this day,

certainly not in December—probably, they say, in June or July.

As proof they point to the text we read at midnight Mass tonight/last-night,

which tells us that on the night Jesus was born:

“there were shepherds in that region living in the fields

and keeping the night watch over their flock.”

Skeptics say shepherds wouldn’t have kept flocks outside

in the cold of December.


The thing is, yes they would.

Because you see, Bethlehem, was just about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem.

And modern Jewish scholars tell us

that in order to keep sheep available year round

for the sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem,

special herds were kept just outside the city—year round.

So yes, there were shepherds in the fields in late December.

And yes, the newborn Babe was born shivering in the cold,

as He tells us that He had come to suffer for us.


But this episode with the shepherds tells us something else:

the shepherds come to worship Jesus,

who one day will be called “the Lamb of God”

and replace the Temple sacrifices of the Lambs

with His own sacrifice of the Cross.



The Word becomes flesh and speaks to us,

in the tiny voice of a vulnerable, suffering lovable Baby.

And in all this He says not merely the invitation, “love me”,

but also as He shows Himself vulnerable and suffering for us, He says:

“love me because I love you.”


And as He says this He opens the door

to the speaking He will do the rest of His life, especially as an adult

—both in words and actions.

This speaking—the Gospel—will be difficult for many to bear.

Because it will be demanding, it will be hard to believe,

and even cause them suffering, even martyrdom.


Over the last 2000 years many have walked away,

afraid of these teachings of Christ—and they continue to do so today.

But if we begin here, with the Babe in His Mother’s arms,

we are not afraid of His Gospel,

because we see that it begins in and springs from love.

God is love, St. John tells us, elsewhere.

And in Bethlehem the Divine Love became a  human Babe, saying to us,

“before you hear anything else I have to say, understand this:

do not be afraid of me, because I love you: love me in return.”



As you may or may not know, Easter, not Christmas,

has always been, by far,

the most important Feast in the life of the Church.

In fact, it seems that Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated,

at least not liturgically,

until the 4th century.

And yet, today most people make a make a much bigger deal

about Christmas than Easter.


Some say this is due to

the commercialization and secularization of Christmas,

and to some extent that’s true.

Many lament the overemphasis of the birth over the resurrection

—the feast of our salvation—and to some extent they have a point.


But I can’t help but remember that

without the Word becoming flesh and blood in Bethlehem

that flesh and blood could not have died and resurrected

in Jerusalem 33 years later.

And without the Eternal Word coming to us in the form of a tiny Baby,

the world would not understand His invitation to love Him

and to be loved by Him

in quite the same way.


Perhaps in this overly commercialized and secularized 21st century,

a world that is in a very real sense afraid to listen

to the Gospel of Christ

because it knows if it listens it will have to change.

….perhaps it is part of God’s providential plan for this century

to focus attention, no matter how unintentionally,

on the birthday of this vulnerable, suffering, lovable Babe.

To see Him in manger scenes or in their minds eye,

in the arms of His Mother Mary, or His foster father Joseph,

and with the shepherds come to watch and worship the Lamb of God.

And in all this to hear Him, the Eternal Word of God, say,

in a voice that echoes over 20 centuries of human history

and into eternity:

“you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

Perhaps, in God’s eternal plan, the cooing invitation of the Baby Jesus

will melt the icy hearts of our faithless century,

including yours and mine,

and open them to listen to the Gospel of Christ

and recognize it for what it truly is:

the Gospel of true love.



As we enter now into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist,

the sacrament of love,

the sacrifice of the Lamb of God,

let us remember that the proclamation of the Gospel

that culminated on the Cross in Jerusalem

began in the manager in Bethlehem,

as the one who loved us from all eternity

was born of the Virgin Mary on Christmas day,

the Word of God made flesh speaking to us

through the vulnerability and suffering of the lovable little Babe.

Come, let adore Him. Come, let us love Him.