Homily for Christmas

year C, 2018

 For most primitive peoples throughout history, the Sun was the Supreme god, surveying the world, giving it light and warmpt. And in the winter, these primitive peoples would light fires in the hope that they could strengthen the failing power of the sun. By 3rd century, the Sun god was proclaimed the principal patron of the Roman empire, and December 25th was the date of the winter solstice. On this day, the sun began its journey back to the northern skies. Bon fires are lit to welcome her back after the darkness of the short days.

The Feast of Christmas originated when the cult of the sun was particularly strong in Rome. The pagan festival was baptized by the Church in Rome which used the same date to celebrate the birth of Christ. We do not know exactly and accurately the date of Christ's real birth, but we do not know why the date of Christ's real birth, but we do no know why December 25 was chosen as a date to celebrate the birth. The Yule Logos and the candles symbolize the warmpt and light of another son of God. In the darkness of this night, we celebrate the birth of the light of the world.  Light has always been associated with  goodness, knowledge and hope. Darkness symbolizes evil, ignorance, despair. In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah presents Christ as the great light shining everywhere, making our happiness greater and our joy immense. He is a wonderful Counselor, a mighty God, eternal father, prince of peace whose dominion knows no bounds. In our Christian tradition, we know Christ as the true light which illumines and lightens all things and all peoples.

Christmas is above all, the commemoration of the coming of God into the human world, our world. His birth brings hope, triumph, and dispels fear, sadness and unnecessary anxiety. Christ's first coming in time (his birth) brought untold ripples: Shepherds were stunned at what they heard;  our blessed Mother wondered what all these happenings could mean and she pondered them in her heart; Joseph was terrified and strictly followed the instructions from the angel. He took babe Jesus and his mother to Egypt so as to escape the murderous lust of Herod; the lives of people who lived in Bethlehem and its environs were touched. Christmas demonstrates that God's language is love. This language is assents by people of all races, creed, sex and social stratifications.

Christmas is a feast of gifts. It is God's self-gift laid in human hands for the salvation of all. It tells of God's lavish love in caring for us. It's God's reckless gift to us in stooping low to our level so as to redeem us (Hebrew 12:1-5). In his authorbiography, titled the only "An only Son, the Irish writer Frank O'Conor tells how one Christmas, Santa Claus brought him a toy engine as a gift. On Christmas afternoon, his mother took him to a local convent of Nuns to visit. As the engine was the only present that he received that Christmas, he took it with him. While he was in the convent, one of the Nuns brought him to visit the crib in the convent chapel. As he looked into the crib, he noticed that the child in the manger had no gift at all. He felt very sorry and upset about it. In child-like innocence, he asked the Nun why the holy child had no gift, even toys or anything. The Nun replied that his mother was too poor to afford a gift. That did it for little Frank. That settled it for him. Frank's mum was poor too, but at every Christmas she always managed to buy him something even  ranging from box of crayons to this present treasure in his hands, his toy engine. In a burst of reckless charity or generosity, Frank took his toy engine, climbed over and put it in between the outstretched hands of baby Jesus in the manger. And he showed him how to wind it as well because a little baby is not supposed to be clever enough to know about things like that. This story tells us the power of Christmas. We show what we are capable of. God's son came in weakness and poverty. Christmas is a feast of the heart because it helps us to make a decision to live and to love and to do something new. It calls us to lavish charity and love such as this little Frank demonstrated in our story.

Christmas demonstrates that God speaks the language of love and peace. This language is assented to by people of various tribes, cultures, races, sex and social stratification. Let us hymn this love and help to build other people’s lives in and through it. On Christmas day in 1914, the German and English soldiers faced each other from trenches filled with mud and rats. In the English trenches, cards and letters arrived from home and this cheered them up a little bit. By midnight some of them began to sing. Then suddenly, one of them shouted ‘listen!’. When they listened, they heard the German soldiers singing the ‘Silent Night’ in the chilly darkness of the night and their voices were echoing down towards them. A few moments later, two brave soldiers met in the open and more soldiers trooped out of their trenches and joined them. On Christmas day, soldiers from both sides walked freely from no man’s land. They exchanged food and drinks and shared jokes together. There were no official truce signed but the power of Christmas was stronger than all the armies at the front put together. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is a sense of inner calm and designate right relationship with God and neighbour.

In his book titled “Christmas”, the Kerry writer John Keane talks about ‘the urging’ of Christmas. He tells about a man in normal circumstances wouldn’t give you the crumbs from his table, but who when imbued with the spirit of Christmas, phoned his estranged daughter in England and begged her to come home for Christmas. The daughter accepted his invitation and on both sides all was forgiven and reconciliation ensued. John Keane remarks that the difficult man wasn’t as mean afterwards. He concludes in that book ‘so my friends, take Christmas by the horns, it can work wonders. He advised that we shouldn’t get too sentimental about Christmas, because we might not get another chance during the year to show our humanity to the world. Christmas is about taking stock of our humanity and dispensing it to the world where it is most needed. So, if we feel the impulse to be forgiving and charitable and loving, we shouldn’t think twice about it or we will miss the boat. The milk of human kindness does not come from cows and goats, it comes from that great repository of compassion and hope which is the human heart.

 It might be good to ask ourselves the question: what is God calling me to do this Christmas? What is at stake for us this Christmas? Is it to mend a failing and crumbling relationship, to break an unholy habit, to reach out and talk to people across the fence? To talk to people who come to church and not just those I am comfortable with alone. As we do this pondering, let’s not forget that God might choose to stretch us as he did to Mary. Can we move beyond the realm of the simple and possible so as to explore the complex and mysterious? 

- By Fr. Innocent Abonyi, MSP

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