Today we hear the most wonderful story, the most beloved and inspiring story, of the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus," the Archangel Gabriel had told the humble Virgin Mary. "He shall be great," said the heavenly messenger, "and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David His father, and He shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:31,32).
Humility and obedience would mark His life. "God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son," says St. John. His sent Him to be born among the humble, born in a stable among the lowly animals. He would be known as "the carpenter's son." He would come from Nazareth in Galilee, of which it was said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). His obedience would be shown by His perfect adherence to His Father's will: "And appearing in the form of man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7b,8).
The world, wanting us to forget this wonderful story, uses everything in its power to blot out the memory of Jesus Christ, "the most beautiful among the sons of men" (Psalm 44:3;7,8). They find so much for us to do around the "Holiday Season" - gifts to buy, trees to trim, parties to attend, noisy music to fill our heads, TV holiday drivel for those with "itching ears," who "turn away their hearing from the truth and turn aside rather to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3,4).
Jesus was born among us because of the love of the Father, Who "so loved the world." His deeds would be motivated by love, because this Child IS Love - Love incarnate. There is no weapon of mass destruction, no nuclear horror, no natural catastrophe, no power whatsoever in this world that can match the power of this Child, "for stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away" (Canticles 8:6,7).
Here we speak of Divine Love, the love that comes from God and is of God, the love that is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us. The human emotion of love, if it is not grounded in divine love, will soon fade away or turn into something else less noble. This is the only kind of love the world knows, so it considers it normal to "love and leave," after destroying that which it seemed to love. This is not the kind of love the Lord had for us, for Jesus, "knowing that the hour had come for Him to pass out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end" (John 13:1).
But don't mistake Our Lord's love for indulgence or permissiveness. God is too good to punish, they say. Everybody is going to Heaven because God wants everyone to be saved. But God, although He "wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4), does not force us to be saved against our will. "God created you without you," says St. Augustine, "but He cannot save you without you."
A recent survey done by ABC brings to light the good news that the great majority of Americans believe in Heaven. The bad news is that most of them have the presumptuous notion that they are all going there, more or less automatically, it would seem. For them cooperation in the process of their salvation is not necessary.
But, says St. Paul: "For with the heart a man believes unto justice, and with the mouth profession of faith is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:10). Furthermore, "Faith… depends on hearing, and hearing on the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). This is why the Church, on this Holy Night, makes a supreme effort to pierce the hardness of our hearts and engage our attention, so that we may hear the story of His Birth once more and begin to change our lives at last.
To awaken our faith we sing the traditional Christmas carols - Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, Lo How a Rose. As midnight approaches the priest and servers approach the nativity scene with sweet smelling incense to offer worship to the Divine Child. The altar and the sanctuary are beautifully decorated with trees, lights and flowers. As the priest and ministers approach the altar the Mass opens with the choir singing the sublime words of the Introit:
"Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te" (Psalm 2:7) - "The Lord said to Me, 'You are My Son; this day I have begotten You."
Once again our senses are enlivened by the sweet smell of incense as the priest incenses the altar, the choir singing: "Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison," - "Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord, have mercy."
By the time we stand for the Gospel our hearts should be open once more to hear the greatest story ever told:
"And Joseph also went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem - because he was of the house and family of David - to register, together with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass while they were there, that the days for her to be delivered were fulfilled. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:4-7).
But we are not mere spectators at a time and place far removed from the mystery of His presence. What follows now is a mystery not of this world and beyond the understanding of men - the miracle of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. At the words, "For this is My Body; For this is the Chalice of My Blood of the new and eternal covenant, the mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the forgiveness of sins," we find fulfilled in a marvelous new way the words of Scripture: "While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, your almighty Word, O Lord, leapt down from Your royal throne" (Wisdom 18:14,15).
We make our way to the altar to receive Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, in Holy Communion. Are we not one in faith with the Holy Mother of God, St. Joseph, and the shepherds? We sing with the angels, "Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis" - "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will."
That is my fondest wish and prayer for you this day in which, truly "Et Verbum caro factum est."