Fr. Bryan Howard
The Nativity of the Lord – 25 December 2019
About 2,021 years ago our Lord Jesus Christ was born. God became man when Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, and on December 25 we celebrate His birth. The Bible doesn’t actually tell us the date of His birth, and modern experts disagree. Some think He was probably born around October and others think it was probably in the Spring. However, the earliest Christians, the ones close to when Jesus actually lived, celebrated Christmas either on January 6, in the Greek dominated Churches, or on December 25, in the Roman dominated Churches, but why pick one day when we can celebrate for the entire 12 days in between; hence the “12 Days of Christmas.”
While the rest of the country is starting their after Christmas sales and radio stations are going back to the normal programming, Catholics are just starting to celebrate Christmas. I don’t know about you, but by the time we get to Christmas I’m about done. So, why don’t we take these 12 days to shift our focus away from presents and parties towards the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that He brings to us. When the angels appeared to the shepherds they said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
When we hear that quote we tend to think of Christmas pageants and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, but this was a world shaking event. This was revolutionary; a challenge to the powers that be. Anyone could have told you that the King of the World lives in Rome and his name is Augustus Caesar. Caesar is the one who was called “lord,” but now that title is being applied to Jesus Christ. When Caesar won a victory in battle they would send out messengers to all of the major cities with the good news, or evangelion, of the victory, and now the angel in saying that the true evangelion is the good news of the birth of Jesus. Caesar could call on the Roman Legions which, at their height numbered in the hundreds of thousands of highly trained professional soldiers, but Jesus has a “heavenly host” or heavenly army of angels who come not to destroy and kill but to sing praises, saying “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
If you think this is just pious exaggeration, remember what Jesus said to St. Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. When they came to arrest him, St. Peter drew his sword and cut off one of their ears, and Jesus told him, “Put you sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. DO you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” Then, when Pontius Pilate wanted to release Jesus, the Jewish officials said, “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” That’s why Pilate handed Jesus over to them, and why they put a sign on His Cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
Jesus was born to institute a new kind of kingdom. The Kingdom of God doesn’t grow through armies or espionage or economic warfare. It grows through faith and love. There were times when Christian Europe tried to spread the faith with the sword, and it inevitably failed. The early Christians said that the seed of the faith is watered by the blood of martyrs, so we revere saints like the Roman martyrs who died in the Colosseum, the Japanese martyrs, the Korean martyrs, and the North American martyrs. We also revere saints who dedicate their lives to the service of the most needy, like Mother Theresa of Calcutta or St. Damien of Molokai, who was priest to the leper colony at Molokai and eventually contracted leprosy himself. We also revere those saints who dedicate themselves to their families, like Sts. Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux.
To be great in the kingdom of God it is not necessary to be born into a noble family, rich, famous, or successful. It takes much more than that. We must recognize the great gift of salvation that our Lord came to give us, the great love that He showed us in the Cross, and strive to live it out every day of our lives. The Lord is still with us in the Eucharist, in our families, in our whatever place where people gather in God’s name, in the poor, and in one another. One of my teachers in seminary, Fr. Michael Chapagne, used to say that prayer is simply to look at Jesus, to look at myself, and then to make an adjustment. This Christmas season, let’s try to reflect on the birth of Jesus and His life, how He challenges us to put love of God and neighbor first in our lives, and try to live like Christ a little bit more each day by showing one another a little bit more kindness, patience, generosity, forgiveness, and compassion.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.