Christmas Mass in the Evening: Gospel – Lk 2:1-14

"
Christmas, A Celebration of God in the unExpected!"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 24 December 2011

We are gathered here together with more than two billion other Christians around the world to celebrate Christmas, let us remember that we are not simply celebrating the birth of a special baby, but the “Birth” of The Almighty God who has the power to create everything that exists in this world and indeed the entire universe!  We are celebrating the event of a God who in spite of such infinite power has chosen to be born in a state of utter powerlessness and helplessness of a baby, in the simplicity of a stable instead of a palace, and lying in a manger for its throne.

God has chosen to be born in such weakness, vulnerability and helplessness because He wants to enter our human world not to show us His power, but to offer us His Love.  Jesus is saying to us, “I want to be weak, so that you can love me and care for me.”  In response, we may say, “But, how can I love and care for you, since you are infinitely powerful and I am humanly finite and feeble”?

To this Jesus might say, “The Jews of my time expected the Saviour to come in great power and might to destroy and liberate them from their enemies who oppress them.  They expected a great king with powerful armies that their enemies cannot match; but they were wrong.

I am instead found in the unexpected situations and persons of your daily living and in the world.  Remember, when I was in need of an inn for my birth, no one offered me their homes . . . If I had come as a great king, all palaces and all doors would be give me a royal welcome.  But, just because my Mother Mary and my foster father Joseph were poor simple folks they were turned away rudely and harshly.  In turning them away they were turning me, their Saviour and Lord away.”

Fr Amal, a Jesuit building houses for the poorest of the poor whose houses were destroyed by typhoon Nagis in Myanmar wrote to me about our Parish Social Mission support to build, so far 300 houses.  I will adapt what Fr Amal has shared with me.  He says, “It is indeed a meaningful greeting to you and your parishioners this Christmas.  As the year comes to an end 300 families have a small house they can call home.  This is because your parishioners thought about these homeless people.  The whole mystery of the Incarnation started with a homeless family who has no place in the inn and who were told, “Go away!”

Most of the families who lost their homes were told, “There is no place for you; you are poor; your poverty is offensive; your sight and your family is not good for the city.  Without any alternative, they are forced to live in the margins – margins where sheds are soaked in muddy waters; where sewage waters flow, where the stench is unbearable.  After a day of merciless labour in the blistering sun, just to put food on the table, they huddle together as a family at night in the piercing cold of their boarded shed.  The space is miserable, but that’s all they have; sometimes they have to sleep in turns.

The homes we have built for them is not a comprehensive solution to their dire needs, but at least they can now sleep under a proper roof and not have to worry about being awakened by rain that leaks through their roof.  At least now, the women can have some privacy and the children, a corner for their study.  In these new homes, dreams are born; hopefully these dreams do not die too soon . . . as their future is still uncertain.

As we contemplate the child Jesus born in utter powerlessness and vulnerability, we are each called to be in fellowship with these homeless destitute; . . . they too are precious children of God . . . to turn them away is to turn Jesus away, like the homes and inn-keepers in Bethlehem.  Your parish response to house these homeless have given the Baby Jesus a place in the inn and have brought much hope to these poorest of the poor who are consoled that there are people in this world who cares.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, when God created us out of Love; in His image and likeness, He created us with an innate and natural desire to love one another.  However, since the Original Sin of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, we are born into a world of brokenness.  When the Child Jesus was born, the angels were directed by God to announce the Good News first of all to shepherds in the fields.

      

The shepherds were the poorest of the poor in the land; their morality of ownership was suspect, like the tax-collectors, and they had neither legal rights nor legal identity.  Indeed, the shepherds in Palestine, were the last, the lost and the least of the land.  It is to these nobodies and the poorest of the people that the Good News of God is first announced.  This tells us that God has a preferential love for the poor and those who are marginalised by society.  And precisely because we are sinful that God has chosen to come into our brokenness.

There is a true story of Sr Anselm, a teacher of one of our Jesuits, who would each year bring out of her closet her very precious Christmas crib to be put up at one corner of her classroom.  Sr Anselm was very strict in not allowing the baby Jesus to be put in the crib till past midnight of Christmas Eve.  One day, one of her boys accidently knocked over the shepherd figurine which fell to the floor and broke into two pieces.  To the great surprise of the boys, Sr Anselm remained calm and simply told them, “We will just leave the broken shepherd at the side of the crib, and we will only glue it together, after Christmas, when Jesus comes.

Sr Anselm then explained further and said, “Because of original sin, we are a broken people even though we are basically good.  After all, God made us, and He saw that we are good.  But, there is some selfish streak in all of us.  God made us for love!  But, how can we explain widespread murder and violence in the world?  How can you explain the bombing of innocent people, or the lies that destroy people?  No one can deny the brokenness and the selfishness of the world and we are each guilty of it in one way or another.

But, that’s precisely why Christ came to earth on the first Christmas night.  He came to heal us all, to straighten the crookedness in each of us.  We are born broken; our lives need mending; God’s grace is the glue.  Christ’s Love is the glue that will put us all back together again, if we would only listen to His Word and welcome His love into our hearts and our families, then Christmas would be filled with the peace and joy that Jesus wants to give us.

      

One of the reasons why the brokenness we are experiencing is not mended even as God offers us His graces, could be that we are not sensing deeply enough what people are going through in their lives and thus in their pains . . . As such, we “turn people away abruptly, like those who turned Joseph away when he needed and inn.  . . . When we are upset . . . and when we quarrel, we insist on our ways and stop listening to one another . . . some of us withdraw into our shell or build walls around us . . . just so that we can cut ourselves off from the people who hurt us . . .

Christmas is a time to open our eyes to see the “Child Jesus” not simply as a special child, but to see Him as “Emmanuel” – as God-is-with-us, who really is present and alive in our midst.  Indeed, in the midst of the suffering of the poor - whether huddled in the huts of Mynmar, or labouring in the blistering sun as slaves of secular society.

Christmas is a time also to open our ears to hear the cry of those who are in pain – often with people whom we live, work and relate to daily, where our anger have dull our hearings and our hurts have numbed our senses to their needs and who they are to us as spouse, son, daughter, family or brother or sister of our religious community.

As we conclude, we can say that “Christmas is when we celebrate the unexpected” presence of God in our lives . . .   Indeed, this is the night when shepherds wake to the song of angels; when the earth has a star for a satellite; when wise men go on a fool’s errand to bring gifts to a Prince they have not seen to a country they did not know.

                          

This is the night when one small donkey bears on his back the weight of the world’s desire, and an ox plays host to the Lord of heaven.  This is the night when we are told to seek our king not in a palace, but a stable; and although we have stood here, year after year, as our fathers before us, the wonder (of the stable) has not faded nor will ever fade; the wonder of that moment when we push open the little door, and enter, and entering find in the arms of a Mother who is a Virgin a Baby who is God Himself-with-us.

The Christmas challenge then is to open our eyes and ears to find this God in unexpected persons, places and situations of our lives – most of all in the poor and suffering of the world whom we have so easily brushed aside, as the inn keepers brushed Jesus aside, and more importantly in the unexpected suffering people with whom we live and relate to.  God Emmanuel is with us; let us find Him and love Him . . . He is in our midst.

(The Mustard Seed, adapted from Fr Joseph Galdon,S.J.; p 239-342).

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

 

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