The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA
Try to imagine the last time you got to hold a sleeping infant or imagine what it would be like to hold one. Close your eyes and picture the scene. [Long pause] Probably wrapped up in a blanket, maybe wearing a little hat. Can you see her face? Can you feel her tiny breathing?
Infants are completely helpless. They cannot feed themselves, change themselves, or move themselves. Modern psychology tells us they cannot even emotionally regulate themselves – if they have a bad feeling, they need someone else to help sooth that bad feeling away. So this infant you are holding, she relies entirely on you. You are her safety, you are her comfort, you are her world. She sleeps peacefully because she trusts you completely. She believes she is safe in your arms.
Infants are also physically attuned to their protectors. They feel their warmth, their breathing, their heartbeat. This infant you are holding, she nestles into your arm and your chest because your body is a firm and ever-present reminder that you will keep her safe and at peace.
This kind of trust can be overwhelming, because all of us know that we are flawed, broken human beings. Part of us does not want the absolute trust of the infant in our arms because we feel like we do not deserve it, that we cannot uphold our end of the bargain. We do not want the trust because we know that we are capable of failure. Why would such an innocent child trust us so completely, us, who carry with us the corruption of the world?
But the better part of our nature aspires to be worthy of this trust. We aspire to rise to the occasion and to become our best selves for the sake of this infant. We aspire to actually be the person this infant believes us to be.
Now imagine all of this knowing that the infant you are holding is God incarnate. Maybe you are like Mary, who received the startling message from the Angel Gabriel, and experienced the mysterious presence in your womb for nine months. Maybe you are like Joseph, who has dreamed of angels telling him to guard and care for this mother and her child, as a foster father to a hidden king. Maybe you are like a shepherd who came running after an entire army of angels announced the birth of the savior of mankind. Or maybe you are a like a Wise Man from the East, whose learning led you to a star which led you to a cave in which this infant was sleeping. Whoever you are holding this child, all of those feeling remain true: Jesus is helpless, he is dependent, he is relying on you, he is trusting you, he is leaning into you. You are the source of his infantile peace and safety. But now it is not simply a child trusting you absolutely, it is God himself, the uncreated creator, the source of all life and existence. God has made himself utterly helpless and has placed himself in your arms.
Before, you may have suspected that you were unworthy of the trust and confidence given to you by the child, but now you know it absolutely. Holding God himself in your arms, every sin, every failing, every flaw and shortcoming come flooding back to your mind. How could God entrust himself to you? How could God decide that you, of all people, were worthy to hold him and to protect him? You want to be worthy, you want to become the person God created you to be, but even your better nature fails you and you lose heart. How can you ever be worthy of this gift? And yet, somehow, the peace of the sleeping infant is communicated to you. You are left with the difficult questions, you are left with the mystery, but you are also left with the sleeping child who brings peace to all mankind.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, every last one of us knows that we are broken, flawed, and sinful. We may gloss over it, reassuring ourselves that, on the whole, we are good people, and we may even find reassurance in that shallow sentiment. But can any of us say that we have been the perfect Christian, giving our entire heart, mind, soul, and strength to God? Or that we have been perfectly attentive and loving to every single member of our families? Or that we have given ourselves completely in service to the poor and vulnerable in our midst? None of us are worthy of the trust and confidence shown to us by the Christ child.
And the shame of our failures, the shame that we are not the perfect creatures we know we were created to be, drives us to try to cover over the holes in our hearts with vain pursuits. Some of us pursue pleasure or wealth, believing that feeling good or feeling secure will make us feel whole. Some of us pursue power or honor, believing that the respect and admiration of others can heal what is broken inside of us. Some of us even pursue a notion of righteousness, believing that if we fight for a cause greater than ourselves – a cause that uses words like liberty or rights or justice or peace or equality or conscience – that somehow going to war for these causes online and in person will bring us the redemption and the healing that we so desperately crave.
But all of these will fail us. Every single thing we pursue will be in vain, and we will never encounter happiness or righteousness or sanctification through our own efforts. We will strive and strive and strive and always feel empty. Instead, in the deepest recesses of our being, we know require a savior, someone other than ourselves who can save us. And, when we encounter him, we realize that our salvation comes from the Christ child and him alone. The healing that we long for comes from him. The peace that we long for comes from him. We want to be worthy of him, worthy of his trust, worthy of his presence. We know we fall short. But that is okay, because the child himself makes us worthy of him. He chooses to be with us and he chooses us to be with him. He chooses us to hold him. He chooses us to follow him. He chooses us, from the moment we are conceived in our mothers’ wombs, to be holy and righteous and redeemed.
Whatever you are seeking – seek it in the manger. If this never-ending plague has upended your life, hold the baby Jesus. If you feel isolated and alone and afraid, hold the baby Jesus. If you feel confused or lost, hold the baby Jesus. If you feel angry, upset, overwhelmed, frustrated, or restless, hold the baby Jesus. This has been a difficult decade or two, for our Church, for our country, for our world – we feel polarized, isolated, and like everything we care about is threatened. Okay, fine. Hold the baby Jesus. It is the presence of the Christ child that will heal us, redeem us, sanctify us. In his presence, we can only ever know peace.
My friends, this is more than just an exercise to get you to picture the Christmas scene. I truly mean it, that the presence of the Christ child will save us. Every Christian should try to pray at least 15 minutes a day. Every Christian should try to sit and converse with, or at least listen to, the Lord. The next time you pray – and I mean this – the next time you pray, try to picture yourself holding the baby Jesus. I am certain that image and that experience will heal you and save you and sanctify you.
However, Jesus is present to us to save us objectively, in more than just our imaginations. He is real and he is here, physically and truly. Everything I have said so far about the baby Jesus is also true about the Eucharist. In the Eucharist God has made himself present – and helpless. In the Eucharist we are confronted with a God who wanted to be with us so much that he placed himself trustingly into the hands of our flawed and broken humanity. In the Eucharist the humility and love of God is on full display. And in the Eucharist, we can find the healing and redeeming presence of Jesus.
If you have been away from the Eucharist for any length of time, Jesus is calling you back to himself. Go to Confession, be made clean, and then receive the physical presence of Jesus into your life once again. His presence is healing, it is fulfilling, it is saving, and it is the greatest desire of the human heart. Satisfy that desire. Be healed.
In a few short moments, we will begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which the priest and people, united together as the head and body of Christ, will join with Christ in his eternal offering to his Father. We will pray the ancient prayers and carry out the ancient ritual through which we unite ourselves to the Cross and experience the grace and joy of the Resurrection. And the bread and wine will become the literal body and blood of Jesus. Jesus will become present, once again – as truly present as he was in the manger at Bethlehem. And he will invite you to receive him into your bodies as once you might have received him into your arms. Come, let us adore him. Come, let us receive him.
¿Qué tan maravilloso sería sostener al niño Jesús? ¿Te imaginas ser María o José o uno de los pastores o sabios, y tomar en tus brazos al infante dormido, sabiendo que este diminuto bebé era Dios mismo, venido a salvar al mundo?
Todos deseamos estar con Dios, estar cerca de Dios, que Dios nos sostenga, nos ame y nos proteja. Pero cuando vino Jesús, cambió las cosas. Ahora éramos nosotros, incluso en nuestra humanidad quebrantada y pecadora, tuvimos el privilegio de amarlo, abrazarlo y protegerlo.
Imagina lo hermoso que sería sostener al niño Jesús, sentir la gracia de su presencia sanándote, llenándote de alegría y paz. Colocarlo literalmente junto a tu corazón, el corazón que desea estar con él. No puedo imaginar nada más milagroso.
Al pensar en esto, podríamos entristecernos de no estar en Belén, en un momento en que podíamos experimentar la presencia del niño Jesús. Podríamos soñar con sostener al niño Jesús, pero nos quedamos atrapados al darnos cuenta de que esto es solo un sueño. No podemos retroceder en el tiempo.
Y sin embargo, mis hermanos y hermanas en Cristo, Jesús no murió y no desapareció. Él todavía está presente para nosotros en algo más que nuestra imaginación. Él es real y está aquí, física y verdaderamente. Es posible que hayamos perdido al niño Jesús, pero todo lo que he dicho hasta ahora sobre el niño Jesús también es cierto sobre la Eucaristía. En la Eucaristía, Dios se ha hecho físicamente presente en nuestro mundo. En la Eucaristía nos enfrentamos a un Dios que deseaba tanto estar con nosotros que se puso con confianza en las manos de nuestra humanidad imperfecta y quebrantada. En la Eucaristía se manifiesta plenamente la humildad y el amor de Dios. Y en la Eucaristía podemos encontrar la presencia sanadora y redentora de Jesús.
Si ha estado alejado de la Eucaristía por un período de tiempo, Jesús lo está llamando para que vuelva a sí mismo. Vaya a la confesión, sea purificado y luego reciba la presencia física de Jesús en su vida una vez más. Su presencia sana, satisface, salva, y es el mayor deseo del corazón humano. Satisface ese deseo. Ser curado.
En unos breves instantes comenzaremos la Liturgia de la Eucaristía, en la que el sacerdote y el pueblo, unidos como cabeza y cuerpo de Cristo, se unirán a Cristo en su eterna ofrenda a su Padre. Rezaremos las antiguas oraciones y realizaremos el antiguo ritual mediante el cual nos unimos a la Cruz y experimentamos la gracia y la alegría de la Resurrección. Y el pan y el vino se convertirán literalmente en el cuerpo y la sangre de Jesús. Jesús volverá a estar presente, tan verdaderamente presente como lo estuvo en el pesebre de Belén. Y los invitará a recibirlo en sus cuerpos como antes lo hubieran recibido en sus brazos. Ven, adorémoslo. Ven, recibámoslo.