No comments yet

Homily for Christmas Day, 25 December 2016

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Human flesh is the handiwork of its Creator. It makes visible something of the beauty of the Son of God. It makes external and tangible that internal and intangible beauty of the only-Begotten Son of the Father, himself the perfect copy of the divine nature of the Father. Human flesh expresses in limited form the unlimited form of God. Just as a work of art “puts flesh and bones” on the beauty perceived by the artist’s inner eye, so human flesh incorporates, literally puts into a body, something of the beauty of the Son as perceived by the Father.

While an artist cannot actually become his work of art, the Son of God has become his work of art, he has become flesh. Yet the flesh he assumed was not the flesh he had intended in his original design. He assumed rather the flesh which had in the meantime been marred by the spiritual sin of our first parents. He took on sinful flesh, without having sinned. He took on mortal flesh, although of himself he is immortal. Human flesh is not a container into which the human soul is placed. Soul and flesh in man are like oxygen and hydrogen in water. The human soul is not human without a body. The human flesh is not human without the soul. One implies the other. They exist as a unit, as a two-in-one. One lives in and from the other in such a way that neither lives without the other. Neither can be itself without the other.

Christ Jesus takes on, then, not just human flesh, but a human soul. Sin marred the flesh by entering through the soul. Every sin, in that sense, is a sin both of flesh and of soul, just as every act of true love and of virtue gives life to both soul and body. Jesus enters our flesh and soul to save us from the sin of both soul and body, from the death of soul and body. And he does it by taking all sin of all souls and all bodies to himself. He whose body and soul contain the divinity of God makes himself the depositary of all sin of body and of soul, not his sin, but ours. In a mammoth act of reversal of Adam’s fall and of its catastrophic consequences upon the whole of creation, he turns the whole of humanity, each human being and creation itself around back to God. This act of reversal is his loving obedience unto death, a loving obedience begun when he took on our flesh and dwelt among us. This act of reversal is accepted by the Father as a sacrifice of redemption and praise when he raises Jesus from death by pouring out the Holy Spirit into his human soul and body; and through his body, blood, soul and divinity, that same Spirit is given to those who believe in Him and live as he commands. The divine seed in Jesus from his conception explodes into life within and throughout his humanity by his death and resurrection. In that humanity, by his birth, he accustomed God to live with man and, by his death and resurrection, he also accustomed man to live with God.

So the Crib and the Cross cannot be separated. The first leads to the second, the point of the Crib is the Cross. He lies in the crib and was worshipped. He lies on the Cross and was first scorned but, for those with faith, was worshipped in the glory of his victory over death. He is held and beheld by his Most Holy Mother in the stable. She beholds and holds him again on Calvary. She now holds and beholds him in his divine and human majesty at the right hand of God. Herod seeks to kill him in the crib; Pilate has him murdered on the Cross; before him now and forever more all powers and dominions in heaven and earth will bend the knee at his name. At his birth, wise men came from afar to worship him with mystical foreknowledge of his victory over death. By his death on the Cross he was to gather into unity all the scattered children of God. Now in heaven he is adored and glorified by a countless multitude from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, among whom we one day hope to be numbered. Born in the darkness, a star shone over him. As he dies on the Cross the heavens are darkened with only the light of his mercy shining upon the good thief, the light of his supreme charity upon St. John and upon the Woman, his Mother. Risen, he himself is that bright Morning Star which never sets and whose light will shine in the heavenly Jerusalem upon the faces of the redeemed.

Christmas can only be said to be a festival of spiritual jewels. It is the festival of faith, that God is Emmanuel, with us; that he is Jesus, the one to save us. It is the festival of hope. We are not alone as a race or abandoned to fate or in need of living aimless and dissolute lives. We have a future, filled with promises made by God and made good by God. Our very bodies and souls will be like those of Christ, cleansed of sin and death, of all ills and fatigue. That future will encompass all the good we have done in this life. It will encompass all our relationships of love and it will heal and reconcile all relationships wounded by sin or weakness: there will be our families and friends whose joy will be ours as ours will be theirs, so that the joy of each will be as great as the joy of all. It will encompass in a way beyond our comprehension the renewal of the beautiful world and universe which the lavish Creator made and entrusted to our stewardship.

Christmas is the festival above all of love, not so much of our love for God or even for one another, but of God’s love for us. God’s love is not mere sentiment. It is his life. God is love. The festival of God’s love is where that love animates our very existence, is the power and energy of our lives on this earth and in heaven. It is a love that casts out all sin and fear if only we let it in, if only we stop giving our sin and fear power over us, if only we would let him cleanse us to the very roots of our souls and bodies. This love of God for us and in us is not only for the future. It begins in the present. It has been made visible to us in the child born for us. The birth of Christ is God saying, “I love you. Can’t you see I love you? I have become a baby so that you cannot not love me, so that your heart cannot not be moved to love me. I love your flesh, your soul, your mind, your memory, your imagination. I love your freedom. I have not come to take anything away from you. I have come to give you everything and to bring everything in you and about you to fulfilment in God.”

Christmas must make us know and, yes, feel the goodness of our humanity, of our individual humanity and of the whole of humanity. It is a goodness which only God can help us see and restore to us when we lose the sense of it. For only the God who is human knows the true secret of our humanity, only he can reveal us to ourselves, our whole selves, our full selves. It is this child of the crib, this man of the Cross, this divine and human Son of Man who will come again in glory who teaches us and shows us the way to fulfilling the truth of our humanity in God’s astonishing plan to make us divine.

My brothers and sisters, let Christmas breathe life once more into your human and Christian existence. There are many troubles around us in both the world and in the Church, but whilst praying for the Lord to overcome them by his powerful command, we must not let them deter us: they simply cannot prevail over Him. For, with the Apostle, I am certain that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God made visible when the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. Because of this more than anything else we can have, and I pray that you will have, a blessed and happy Christmas.