Christmas Homilies

Patrick Allen on December 27, 2011

Listen to Fr. Sanderson's Midnight Mass homily.

Listen (or read below), Fr. Allen's Christmas Day homily.  

Christmas Day
25 December 2011
John 1.1-14
Fr. Patrick Allen

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Here we are, we happy few, "on Christmas Day in the morning," and God bless you for being here this morning, for tearing yourselves away from home and hearth to attend Mass this Lord's Day morning.  I figure we might as well talk about what is on all of our minds:  Presents!  And don't worry, I'm not about to kill your Christmas morning toy-buzz with some anti-consumerist, anti-materialism, anti-commercialism harangue.  I've already delivered that screed – I mean, preached that sermon – a few weeks ago.  (I remember it even if you don't!)

And besides, while there is no denying that this annual end of the year retail free-for-all is disorderd, it is only that:  disordered.  Which means that there lies at its heart, beneath it all, something good, something, true, even something wonderful, something which has been somehow twisted, somehow bent – sometimes a little, as in

This Christmas, I've overspent because I so wanted my beloved to have this beautiful thing.

And sometimes a lot, as in

This Christmas, I've overspent because being the possessor of a platinum-lined wireless infrared self-cleaning waffle iron with On-Star validates my place in the universe as a person others must value and respect.

But the urge, the desire, even the obligation we sometimes feel, to give something good to someone we love, or someone we know we ought to love – that is a very good desire, a desire in which we may see something of the eternally self-giving Triune God, in whose image and likeness we are made.  Our own Christmas giving is the dim reflection, the pale shadow of the primal, original Christmas Gift, when the Word, who was in the beginning with God and was God, "was made flesh and dwelt among us," when God gave himself to us in Jesus Christ.

Which brings us back to presents.  Presents, you know, are revelatory – they reveal; they signify.  As fine a thing as the present itself might be, the present, any present, proceeds from and points back to something beyond itself.  It points back to the heart of the giver.

Now, this is not always and perfectly so.  We don't always find the right gift.  Indeed, I think a great deal of our Christmas anxiety has to do with finding the right gift, the appropriate gift that conveys the right message, the gift that best reveals the giver's heart, and corresponds to the recipient's need and desire.

But the best presents do that, don't they?  The best presents are exactly what the recipient needs and wants, even if she doesn't know it until she opens it, but they also reveal the giver's heart – a good present is revelatory in that way.  "It's the thought that counts" really is true.  "It's the heart that counts" is even more true.

Well, what about this original Christmas Gift?  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

What does that Gift reveal, what does it signify?  What is the character of its Giver's heart?

Well, if the Baby – the helpless, vulnerable, totally dependent upon his Mother's care baby in the manger – is the Word-Made-Flesh, not just the "son of God" in the sense of being somehow specially favored by God, but is actually God the Son in the sense of actually being God, if that child in the hay, the Son of Mary really is God the Son, well then...  We learn not just what God wants for us, but what God wants from us.  And in fact we learn exactly who God is.

If our sin and rebellion is the problem, and God wanted in justice to punish sin and make us do right, God could have done that.  God could could have come among us in force and strength, could have over-awed us with majesty, could have coerced our obedience by the power of his might.  If that's what God, if that were his heart, that's how he could have come – he could have given us that kind of gift.

But he came as a baby.  He came in weakness, not strength; in humility, not majesty.

Here's the thing.  Here's Christmas:  obedience can be coerced, but love... love must always be free.  And God is Love.  And what God wants for us is love.  And this Child in the manger, this "divinity dwindled to infancy, this Gift, this Present, tells us that what God wants from us is not our coerced obedience, not our submission, but our love – our free love.

And so, in Jesus, God in love gives himself to us:  poor, weak, and vulnerable.

Gifts, presents, are revelatory:  they signify; they speak.  They express the heart.

And in all of our giving, even in our best gifts, there is always, to a greater or lesser degree, there is always a gap – a gap between the sign and the thing signified, between the gift and the giver.  We say "it's the thought that counts" because we have to, because the thought and the gift can never be identical.

But here's the thing.  Again, here is Christmas:  God does not give us something external to himself; God gives us himself.  In this child born unto us, that gap between the Gift and the Giver has disappeared.  That baby is not a gesture.  In this Gift, it really is the thought that counts, because in this gift the Thought, the Heart, the Logos, the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

God has given himself to us.  Now, may we give ourselves to him, by giving ourselves to one another.

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