Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Christmas Eve – Thursday, December 24, 2015
|Adoration of the Shepherds - Guido Reni (Italian Baroque painter 1575 – 1642)|
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we prayCast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell.O come to us, Our Lord Emmanuel.
(from the hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem, written by Episcopal priest Phillips Brooks)
Emmanuel. God among us. God around us. God within us.
Tonight, we celebrate the nearness of God in remembering the birth of his only begotten son, Jesus of Nazareth. It is an amazing event that marks the beginning of a great Christian mystery; the Incarnation. God takes on a human destiny to manifest God’s deep engagement with humanity and to make us understand divinity in a new light. And this starts with the birth of a baby named Jesus.
Jesus is source of all there was, is and is to come. Jesus is the Word that brought forth creation. Jesus is the Messiah. And eventually, he will also be the One crucified, risen from the dead and exalted to God in heaven. And later still he shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.
Jesus is all of that and more. And yet in the stillness of that night, he came to us in the vulnerable and lovely form of a baby. The fullness of God chose to be made flesh in the particulars of a little baby born to parents of modest means in a backwater of the Roman Empire. The embodiment of God in human flesh is amazing enough. God had no need to highlight it by choosing an important, famous or rich person to do it.
On the contrary, the nativity story as it is told to us by the evangelist Luke shows clearly how God loves the humble, the simple and even the marginalized.
Mary and Joseph come from a small village in Galilee. Joseph is a craftsman not a wealthy merchant or landowner. They are not important or prominent people.
God chooses to come to us in the precarity of a temporary dwelling for Mary and Joseph, a simple Bethlehem building shared with animals.
And God chooses to announce the glory of the incarnation to simple shepherds, a reviled group in the society of their time. Shepherds were regarded as dishonorable because they were not home at night to protect their family. And they were considered of dubious morality since they let their flocks graze regardless of property boundaries.
Yet it is to these lowliest of lowlies that God chooses to announce the birth of the Savior. Angels and shepherds are celebrating together. Heaven and earth are rejoicing in wonderment.
The birth of Jesus Christ shows us the humility of our God and God’s solidarity with all of humanity. God cares for the poor and simple. God’s glory is found among them. Let us not forget that when our Christmas celebrations recede into fond memories of great food and gift-giving.
But the advent of Jesus, the arrival of Christ does not limit itself to an historical event in occupied Palestine twenty centuries ago.
The very good news of tonight is that the advent of Jesus is a continuing event that happens in each one of us as we continue our journey with God and towards God.
As announced, the advent of Jesus will happen again when he will manifest himself to us at a time unknown, when we will all, living and dead, be transformed by self-knowledge, deep acceptance of our reality and a more total embrace with God.
This is to happen at some time in the future. We do not know when. We don’t need to know when. Good and bad will be fully revealed and Jesus will again be with us in the flesh. It is a promise our God has made to us and it is coming.
And then, there is now, the in-between time. The time of already and not yet. Jesus has already lived, died and risen from the dead in our historical time. And Jesus has not yet returned to us in glory.
This in-between time is where we live and love and die. And Christ himself promised to be with us in that in-between time. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ post-resurrection meeting with the disciples, he tells them: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20b).
So how is Jesus here with us today, now, in this very instant and in this very place? It is not only in the representation of baby Jesus in the creche; although that is a lovely way of making visible and tangible a presence which otherwise often eludes us.
There are four ways in which we may experience Emmanuel, God among us, tonight.
One is to look around you. Please give a friendly glance to your neighbors. They may be strangers, they may be friends or loved ones; no matter. Each one of them is a manifestation of the Divine in your life. You may not readily see it, but in our daily dealings with one another, we are invited into Christ among us.
Two, if it feels good, close your eyes for a few moments and focus on your inner being. The life within you, is also a manifestation of God among us. If you take time for prayer or meditation on a regular basis, you know that a sense of the divine can be glimpsed there at times.
And if you’ve done prayer or meditation often enough, you know that the Divine presence is at work within us whether we glimpse it or not. God is never absent from you. Even if you don’t feel present to God; God is there anyway, closer to you than your very breath.
Three, God wants to give godself to you through the sacrament of creation. Nothing that the Creator initiated is absent from the grace of God. The material world also manifests aspects of the divine Love. Even the work of humanity’s hands participates of this divine momentum towards revealing what Teilhard de Chardin referred to as the Cosmic Christ.
So Jesus - God - is with us here today, manifested in each other, in ourselves and in both the ordinariness and awesomeness of creation.
And last but not least, Jesus gave his life that we may receive mercy, life abundant and love overflowing. It may be hard to imagine when we celebrate baby Jesus’ coming to us in human flesh tonight. But at the end of his historical presence amongst us, Jesus gave us a visible sign of his ongoing flowing grace for us in life and beyond death.
And this visible sign, this sacrament is the Eucharist, the bread and wine that we will soon get to share as Jesus’ flesh and blood. When we come forward for the Eucharist, we reinforce our willingness to be part of Christ in the world. When we receive the consecrated bread and wine we incorporate Christ into us and us into Christ. Christ is receiving you into his cosmic body.
Tonight, let us rejoice on God’s generosity in sharing his Son. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3:16).
And let us remember that Jesus is with us always to the end of times. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors! (Luke 2:14)