Homily for the Solemnity of Nativity of the Lord, Mass during the Night, Year A 2019
“The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep of shadow a light has shone. You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase; they rejoice at harvest time, as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils… for there is a child born for us, a son given to us… Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end… From this time onwards and for ever, the jealous love of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
These are great words from Isaiah 9:1-7. They are words that name and claim our reality. We are indeed the people that walked in darkness, the darkness of ignorance. We seem not to know we are sons and daughters in the Son. We live like orphans, searching for Our Father meanwhile He has been with us. He has been God with us right from the beginning. But we are ignorant of His presence. We wander; raising for ourselves father figures that leave us worse off.
We are indeed the people that live in the land of deep shadow. We are caught up in the shadow of pride. We have become gods unto ourselves. We feel we know it all. We are certain of our knowing. It is the truth. There is no other truth, except the truth that fits our categories of truth. What a shadow! What a deep sad shadow that puts us behind the Light and even turns us against the Light. It is the shadow of routine that prevents us from seeing the beauty of the unplanned.
We are also caught up in the shadow of wilfulness. A faint shadow that often comes unnoticed. It is attractive. It does seem like the Light, but it is not. It is a shadow of the philosophy that is prevalent in Buddhism, Taoism and many Eastern religions that capitalises on man’s quest for God. A philosophy that suggests that by disciplining ourselves or following a particular moral way of life, we can encounter God. We live in this land of shadow because it is fashionable.
It is the in thing. We hear it all the time. The fashion statement, I am spiritual. Meaning, I am searching for my God. The God I am designing. The God I want. The God that meets my psychological needs. The God that does not rock my precious little boat of Me-ism. The God that is nice to me, nice to the people are around me, the God of civil peace; a very non-confrontational God. That God definitely cannot be the God that became flesh in the manger.
So, the people that walked in darkness, who live in the land of deep shadow has seen a great light, and that light has shone on them. It is the light that dispels our darkness. It is the light that leads us back to the Original Good. The light that takes us to the very beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth; brought order to a formless and chaotic world and filled the ordered world with His Presence. And that Presence became flesh. He is being born for us.
It is the light that opens our eyes to a whole new philosophy. It is the philosophy of God’s quest for man. The philosophy that helps us to grasp the theology of Emmanuel – God with us. According to Karl Rahner, He is with us whether we take notice of Him or not. For He is with us in the good times, when we can feel Him. The times when everything speaks of His presence. But He is also with us in the bad times. In times of drought He seeks us out and strengthens us.
He is God with us. The God that comes to us. The God that is not ashamed of us. The God that loves us so deeply that He chose to be born in the manger. In other words, He chose to be born in our own mess. For a manger, a stable is a messy place. It is full of flies, muck and animal droppings. It smells. And sometimes, our lives resemble the manger. They smell of anger, bitterness, hatred, envy, abortion, murder, abuses of different sorts, and Christ still comes to it. He comes to be born there, right there He is being born this Christmas and for us.
What a joy! It is a joy that is evoked by the revelation that we are loved this much – that the God of the Universe became a child just for us. It is the joy that Isaiah in our first reading claims emanates from the jealous love of the Lord of hosts. For jealousy here must be understood in the Greek sense of Zήλίά, which means to burn with zeal for the good of the other. This is a typical case of a double positive. For love is willing the good of the other, so jealous love emphasises the intensity of God’s love.
It is the love that St. Paul in the second reading speaks about: “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are awaiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus.”
Tonight, this God is coming. He is coming as a child, frail and vulnerable, peaceful and beautiful. His eyes are gazing around to catch ours. “Take the child in your arms. Gaze on His face and see how much He loves you. Let Him lock eyes with you, as babies will, so that He can search your heart and reveal you to yourself.” This is why He is born for us; He chose to be born in the manger, to reveal that we are not the sum of our mess. We are children of the Father. We do not have to make up father figures for ourselves because Our Father is with us.
So, what shall we do? We are to do what Mary did in the Gospel reading, “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.” That means, we have to love the child Jesus even when circumstances are not right for us. For what we are in love with seizes our imagination and then affects everything. This is the Christmas story. It changed everything for Mary and Joseph and for the shepherds. May it also seize your imagination, change everything for you and endow you with joy. Merry Christmas!
Fr. Francis Afu