Merry Christmas! My prayers and best wishes to you and yours on this holy feast day! This homily is based on the Gospel (John 1: 1-18) that is designated for Christmas Mass during the Day (there’s 4 different options) – http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122515-day.cfm . As always thanks for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on Social Media. I’m grateful for all your feedback, comments and support. Merry Christmas! God Bless – Fr. Jim
Quick commercial – A couple of weeks ago, we had a quite unexpected and unwelcome “surprise” – the boiler at the Newman Center went kaput. Thankfully with mild temperatures and quick response from our plumber, we were able to have a new system installed rather quickly. Unfortunately that was another $9,000 unexpected expense to an already stretched budget from our “Tree Falling Incident” back in May. I’m grateful for all those who’ve already made a gift to NEWMAN CATHOLIC in our Annual Christmas Appeal. The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference. To make a contribution, please check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.
One story that seems to make the rounds every year around Christmas – whether on the internet, newspapers or television – is the discussion of how December 25th became the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. For the most part, it’s agreed that there’s no clear cut evidence that puts this historic event on this precise date with the certainty that we could with say some other historic events – like when we mark July 4, 1776 as the birth of our nation with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
There are some theologians who have done some pretty interesting biblical scholarship that does support the celebration being today ( for example: http://taylormarshall.com/2012/12/yes-christ-was-really-born-on-december.html) But for so long, people have heard that the celebration of Jesus’ birth was simply placed on the calendar to counter pagan celebrations that were occurring on or around that date – that these ancient celebrations were simply “Christianized” – that has become, for the most part the generally accepted theory behind how we came to seeing Jesus’ birthday as December 25th.
One of those celebrations that has been claimed to have been usurped by Christians is the events surrounding the Winter Solstice – the annual occurrence when in the Northern Hemisphere we experience the longest night of the entire year. This is the day when the astronomical phenomenon of the tilt of the Earth results in the fewest hours of daylight and the most hours of darkness. Here in the New York City area this occurred this past Monday where we experienced the shortest hours of daylight for the entire year – only 9 hours 15 minutes and 16 seconds…. For Trivia sake, the summer solstice – happening in June will be 5 hours and 50 minutes more sunlight on what is considered the longest day of the year)
Some look at this “transforming” of celebrations or traditions as something controversial. Arguing that this was a successful co-opting done by Christians to usurp other ancient traditions (which if that’s true, one can argue, the secularists have done a pretty good counter-attack to Christmas in recent decades). Others who see Christianity as completely untrue will cite this questionable day as another piece of evidence of some grand conspiracy where the entire Christian story is held suspect.
For me, though, whether we could ever have the exact certitude or not of December 25th being the day that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ in a manger… it does seem to be the perfect occasion or time of year to celebrate this event which has forever changed the human race.
This time of year, which particularly in our modern era has been made so busy in our elaborate celebrations of whatever holiday you wish – Christmas – Boxing Day – New Years – Festivus… Kind of distracts us from the dreariness that the ancients faced with the winter solstice. In fact, wait… in a few weeks when these celebrations are completed and we may have gained only about 10 or 15 minutes of daylight, stories will be making the rounds of how people are experiencing what are called the “Winter blues.”
Nature with the long nights and short days conveys a sense of gloom. Despite our desires, our preferences for that not to be the case… In spite of our advancements and modern conveniences (Yes, a huge shout out to Thomas Edison and countless others who’ve created lights and found ways to illuminate streets and buildings as the sun sets…) – we can’t change this natural phenomenon. Those inventions have provided ways to deal with it, compensate for it, make it a bit more bearable. But we can’t ever truly defeat it. This darkness.
Nature will, as nature does, take care of this phenomenon itself… just as it does every morning. The sunrise casts the light. The new day vanquishes the gloom. And come June, the Sun will be seen as the victor – reigning a full 15 hours and 5 minutes of daylight on the longest day of the year in the Summer Solstice. But that seems like a distant – far off event as we see street lights turn on at 4:30 in the afternoon!
Which is why it seems like naturally the best time of the year to celebrate Christ’s birth into humanity. There’s no shortage of things to point to that fills us with a sense of fear, anxiety, sadness… people talk about it like a “dark cloud” over them – over all of us. We see violent, horrifying terrorist attacks; we hear angry rhetoric on all sides of the political aisles; we see neighbors pointing at one another as the reason for unrest, instability, division… We experience or have loved ones and friends going through “painful” Christmases- the death of a loved one; illnesses and sicknesses; turmoil from lack of jobs and increased debt… Yes, there is great darkness. Which sadly, nature hasn’t been able to vanquish with each passing day of the lunar calendar.
Which is why we celebrate Jesus’ entrance into humanity. Not just at this time of year, the darkest time of the year. But each and every day… each and every year since that first Holy Night… As St. John proclaims to us in the Gospel today: What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Yes – brothers and sisters, we all experience darkness. Some of us are experiencing incredible pain and suffering; some have real fears that they try to run from throughout the day and keep them up throughout those long nights… and some live in dread that at some point this darkness will catch up with them as well.
Jesus is born into this.
God steps into his cosmos in a unique way to set a different course.
Nature speaks supernatural truths: that we have the real hope of that sunrise; we have that certainty of the longest night becoming the longest day… we have the promise of his eternal light, eternal life radiating and transforming all those corners and remnants of darkness we experience in this world around us.
That is the light that shines.
That is the light the darkness has not – and will not overcome.
We see it in the love that often reveals itself in moments of darkness. We see it in that movement of our hearts and souls to help another – that calls us out of our isolation, out of our selfishness, out of our darkness into light. We see it in those acts of generosity; in movements of sacrifice; in humility; in meekness; in tenderness. When those actions, those movements occur, we find ourselves entering into the Christmas mystery: the smallness of God becoming one of us; the tenderness of the Baby Jesus who makes himself so readily accessible we can’t help but want to encounter the God who comes to seek us, comes to love us.
Pope Benedict XVI a few years ago in one of his Christmas homilies shared this thought: God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love.
May our annual commemoration of the historic birth of Christ renew ourselves in this great mystery – that Jesus has come, and remains with us… offering us the light to dispel all darkness, today and always. Calling you and I to be that light bringing His Joy, His Peace, His Love to the hearts of all men and women..