Homily for Christmas, 2016
For my homily this evening I will refer to the photos printed in the order of service on the front and back covers, and on page 11. The photos were cover photos for the New York Times in the fall of 2015.
These photos of young Syrian families help us to imagine what it might have been like for the Holy Family at the first Christmas 2,000 years ago. As the husband attends with concern to his wife in the cover photo, so I imagine Joseph to have tended with concern to Mary as she traveled, full-term, to Bethlehem. Maybe – as is the woman in the photo – Joseph even wrapped Mary in a blanket to keep her warm. Like the mothers in the field care for their infants in the photo on page 11, so I imagine Mary to have been in fields with Jesus as they traveled home from Bethlehem, occasionally stopping to rest and nurse. Like the boy on the back cover looking up to the woman helping him with a coat, so I imagine Jesus to have looked up to adults helping him when the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod, for – like the refugee boy in the photo – he probably needed clothing, too, after his family fled suddenly in the middle of the night.
These photos help to remind us that Christmas was not a one-time event that we celebrate once each year. Christmas – Jesus’ being born into this world – happens daily; God is continually born into our world to bring new life, to bring hope, to bring fresh possibilities. And these photos help to remind us that God most readily enters our lives, not where we “have it all together,” but where we are vulnerable.
As I consider what it must have been like for the Holy Family – living in poverty, living in a country occupied by foreign armies, travelling while Mary was full-term – it seems that if God was able to be present and to bring forth new life in the Holy Family in their circumstances, then God is able to be present and to bring forth new life for the people of Syria. And if God is able to be present and to bring forth new life in the Holy Family’s circumstances and for the people of Syria, then God is able to be present and to bring forth new life for the people of South Sudan, of Somalia, of lands occupied by ISIS, of Ukraine, of our inner cities, and of every other place in our world marked by fear and violence.
God is able to be present and to enter into human life, not so much where we “have it all together,” but wherever we are small, fragile and vulnerable. God is not waiting for us to be perfect to enter our lives; God wants to enter our lives now, just as we are, as unfinished and messy as our lives may seem. God wants to travel with us where we are refugees; God wants to be with us wherever we experience conflict and despair. God wants to enter in and bring forth new life in us because God loves us. God loves each and every one of us, and God wants to bring all new life, to bring all people joy, to bring all hope, for all to live without fear and be free to love. And God is most readily able to enter in and do this, not where we are strong, but where we are vulnerable.
I invite us, over the course of the Christmas season, to pray both for refugees the world over, and also for us. I urge us to pray for justice and peace for the people of Syria, for the people of South Sudan, and for people in every place who are fleeing violence. And I invite us to pray for the grace to let God into our lives, which God is most readily able to do, not where we “have it all together,” but where we are weak.
The Pope says that “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk” of inviting Jesus in. We will not be disappointed to take the risk of inviting Jesus in because “whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms… With a tenderness which never disappoints… he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and start anew.” (The Joy of the Gospel, 3).
I hope we might take the risk this Christmas season to invite Jesus in, to be born in us, so that – as we take this step toward Jesus – we may discover that he is already here, waiting for us, with open arms, with tenderness, and with the possibility of starting anew.
I will leave us with a poem by Madeleine L’Engle. It is a poem about God taking the risk of being born, not where we humans have it all together, but where we are vulnerable. The poem is called, “The Risk of Birth.”
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
May we take that risk!