Sunday December 25, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Christmas Day
Reading I (Isaiah 62:11-12) Reading II (Titus 3:4-7)
Gospel (St. Luke 2:15-20)
Today we celebrate what on the natural level is always one of the most joyous events: the birth of a baby. There is always great joy when a baby is born, but the baby who is born today brings even greater joy. As we heard in the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord proclaims to the ends of the earth that the Savior comes. And so it is not just a matter that a particular couple had a baby and their friends and family rejoice with them, but rather in this situation the whole world rejoices because today, as Saint Paul made clear in the second reading, the kindness and the generous love of God have appeared. Even prior to that, in the second chapter of his Letter to Titus, Saint Paul says that the grace of God has appeared offering salvation to all men.
Now you ponder just those points: the grace of God and the kindness and the generous love of God have appeared. That is what we have in this little baby. Saint Paul says to the Philippians that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. So the miracle of what we celebrate today is God Who is born as a human baby. This is something which is completely beyond anything that our minds can even begin to grasp. This child on one level is just like any other baby who is born–tiny, innocent, vulnerable, dependent upon his mother, all of the things that we could say about a baby–and yet at the same time this child is unlike any other who has ever been born, not only because this child is God, but every single baby who is conceived is conceived only by the will of his parents; this child is conceived because He willed it. It is the parents who unite together to bring forth a child under normal circumstances. In this case, the child created His mother in order that He could be created in her. He is born because He chose to be born. Obviously, none of us can do such a thing because none of us existed before we began in our mother’s womb. But when the human nature of Jesus Christ began to live within the womb of His mother, His divine nature had already existed from all eternity.
The fact that God would become one of us is the most astounding thing that we can even imagine. Yet we have to ask the question of why. Perhaps we can grasp the idea that God wanted to become man in order to save us from our sins, but even so, the question is: Why would He become a baby? God created Adam and Eve as adults; He could have just done the same Himself. But we know, as Saint Paul would tell the Galatians, that in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it. Well, Saint Paul then also tells us that the law brings death. So Jesus is born subject to the law, to the law of death. It is the very reason why He chose to come into the world: to die.
But He came as a baby, I think, for a couple of reasons; number one, because a baby is about life. When you see a newborn baby, immediately the hope that humanity is going to continue is present in that child. Immediately, when you see a newborn baby, your heart is wide open with love and with joy. Our Lord comes into this world subject to death in order to teach us that He came for life, that He came to give us life and to give it to us abundantly. In fact, as Saint Paul told us in the second reading today, by the grace of God we have become heirs of eternal life. God chose to take on our temporal life so that we could have eternal life. He chose to be subject to death so that we could have life. He chose to become man so that we could become God.
If you ponder the idea that the one title Jesus gave Himself and called Himself over and over is simply “Son of Man,” the question is why. Why would He call Himself the Son of Man? He is the Son of God from all eternity. Why draw attention to the fact that He is the Son of Man when by nature He is the Son of God? First of all, it is because we would have to have complete faith that He is God; but secondly, He calls attention to that which He was not and has now become. If that is the case, if He became the Son of Man it was so we could become the sons and daughters of God, and to draw attention to that which we were not. By nature we are human, but by God’s grace we have become children of God.
Again, go back to that point which we heard already from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus: The grace of God has appeared. The grace of God is Jesus Christ. His grace is His very life. The grace of God has appeared; this is something that cannot happen by nature. How can your life appear someplace? It cannot. Your life is not visible. But the grace of God has appeared in the person of Jesus Christ, and it is by the grace of God that we become children of God and heirs of eternal life.
Now if you think about it again in this exchange, Scripture tells us with regard to the One Whom God calls His own Son, that He will make Him the heir and give Him as His inheritance all the nations. So Jesus, He Who created all of the nations, comes into this world and becomes one of us, and His inheritance has to do with this world–all of the people in this world. In exchange, what is our inheritance? It is God; it is heaven; it is eternal life. And so He Who was not of this world becomes of this world in order to inherit every soul who would inhabit this world, so that those who are of this world would be able to become other-worldly, so that our inheritance will be heaven and will be God Himself.
He comes to us as a baby to show us life. He comes in a way that we can see and that we can understand the natural life in order to point beyond it, because the child upon whom we gaze in the manger, the child whose humanness we can see is God. If the grace of God has appeared, it is so that through the appearance of Jesus Christ in human form we would be able to look beyond to see the reality of what lies underneath. Only with the eyes of faith can we see that.
The other reason I think He came as a baby is to teach us what we are to be. Jesus tells us that we are to be as innocent as doves, and yet as clever as serpents. What is a baby? Innocent. Pure. Gentle. Vulnerable. Dependent. Trusting. The list could go on and on. And what does He want from us? To be exactly that: to have the innocence and the trust and the dependence upon God that a baby has upon his mother. That is what He wants from us. He took on our nature so that we could take on His. We could say in a way that He was transformed to become one of us so that we would be transformed to become Him. As Saint Paul points out in the second reading, it is through Baptism that we have become members of Christ and heirs to eternal life. He became one of us so that we literally could become a member of Himself, to be a member of Jesus Christ, to share His life, to share His nature.
And so today, as we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, we need to think very deeply about the joy that comes with the birth of a baby, and we need to think about the peace that is there. Mary, we are told, held all of these things in her heart; she pondered them. Just think what a mother does with a baby. She sets the baby on her lap and she just simply gazes at the child, looks deeply into the eyes of the baby if the baby is awake; and even if the baby is asleep, the mother just stares as if to look beyond what is physical into the very depths of the being of that child. That is what Jesus asks of us today, to have the kind of joy and the kind of peace that is experienced by a mother in union with her child, the kind of innocence that is present, and to be able to look beyond what is seen into the very depths of this Child, Who looks beyond what is seen in us to the very depths of our being. And what is it that we do with a baby? We love the baby. How could you not love a baby?
That is all Jesus wants from us. He wants us to come near to Him. He wants us to let down our guard just like we do with a baby, and He wants us to love Him. But the difference with this child as opposed to any other baby is that under normal circumstances a baby cannot love in return–but this baby is Love itself. He loves us first so that we can love Him. That is what He is wanting. That is what He is waiting for. He shows Himself to us in a way that we can be vulnerable. That is what we do with babies because we know a baby is not going to hurt us. We know that a baby is not going to violate us, so we can let our guard down and we can make funny noises and funny faces and we can just be as innocent as can be in the presence of a baby. Do not put up any pretenses with Jesus. He looks beyond what you can see anyway, and He knows what is in your heart. Let the guard down. Come to Him in innocence, in gentleness, in trust, in dependence upon Him. Be filled with the joy and the peace of this child. Love Him, and allow yourself to be loved by Him. Then you too will be able to hold all of these things in your heart and ponder them, to ponder the great mystery of God made man, born for us as a human baby of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.