In this beautiful homily for Christmas Day, Year C, Father Hanly talks about the day that changed the world!
Readings for Mass at Dawn
First Reading: Isaiah 62:11-12
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 97:1, 6, 11-12
Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7
Gospel: Luke 2:15-20
Recording of Gospel
For Christmas Day, Father chose to read us the whole Christmas story, ie Luke 2:1-20, not just Luke 2:1-14 from Midnight Mass or Luke 2:15-20 from the readings for Mass at Dawn.
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
It’s a great story. You can almost feel St Luke’s enthusiasm for the whole thing.
St Luke was the only disciple of Jesus, he was the only disciple of St Paul rather, who was a Gentile and was not a Jew. And of all the writings in the Old and New Testament, he is the only non-Jew who has something to say.
And he says it with such great poetry, and with such great heart, that it would have been a terrible loss if he had never written down about the life of Jesus and, especially, the part about Jesus’ birth.
He was a very good friend of the Blessed Mother and so, when we hear his account, we hear her account to St Luke, who wrote in lovely flowing Greek language.
And the whole world today, every Christmas Midnight Mass, hears the wonderful beginning of the passage.
We hear this story so often we forget, we take it for granted. But if you look at it from the shepherd’s point of view, or if you look at it from the angel’s point of view, or any point of view, Herod’s point of view, this was the day that changed the world.
This was the time that God decided to intervene directly into mankind’s life and times. And rather than be apart He Himself sends His Son who He loves. And remember the words: God so loved the world that He gave His Son who He loved. And His Son became one with us and joined us to the divine.
The birth continues and the shepherds are told that in Bethlehem…
Bethlehem was a no place of a little city. It was known because King David, who became the mightiest king one thousand years before Jesus, King David was the king that Samuel the prophet had selected. And he and his family were to be given, one day, the honour of being told that someday the Messiah, the Christos, the long awaited one who would change the world, out of that family the Messiah would be born.
And so it is we’re looking at a scene where the first news, the best news, the most important news ever given to we as human beings, the news was given to shepherds. Shepherds who are useless little articles. They had no say in courts, because everybody knew that shepherds lied and they couldn’t be trusted. And they weren’t even allowed in their own homes, they had to stay out in the fields, out on the mountain tops taking care of their sheep all night long and then come back in the day, have something to eat, and that was their whole life. They were illiterate, people called them stupid, and no one respected them or had anything to say that was decent about them.
And here the angel of God is telling them the news that today in the city of David there is born to you the Christos, the Messiah, the Holy One of God.
And he barely says that astounding news when he says, “And here’s how you will find him. You will not find him sitting on a throne, you will not find a lot of important officials running there to see who he is and where he was born and what was his background. You will find a child wrapped in little more than cleaning rags and laying in a trough out of which the animals will take their feed.”
And then Luke adds that wonderful, wonderful tiny little extra: “Because there was no room for him in the inn.”
And Luke is kind of saying to the whole world that he has come, and he has come for you, and you must open, not your mind to understand this wonderful thing, but you must open your hearts and allow him to come to the safety and security of your own heart.
Christmas, then, is really a love story. It has nothing to do with history and all the other things, although it certainly is applied to the historical development of the great religions and who believes in what, etc, etc.
But, basically, it’s all this: God loved the world and He sent His Only Son as a helpless, needy little child. And He said to the human race, “This is my Son whom I love. I give him to you. Now open your hearts and take him in.”
And this is the reason why we have the season, as they say. The reason is because God’s love is revealed in this little baby. And this is the wonderful thing, because, in this event, we begin to realise that God needs men’s love like a little child needs the love of his mother and his father and his friends. And God aches for that so much that He becomes man that He might understand: understand us, understand who we are and what we worry about and the things that concern us, to live the life of a human being.
To live the life of a human being, and what happens to him, of course, is he preaches only one message and it’s the message of Christmas: God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son that we might open our hearts and take him in.
The reason why this story is so essential is because it turns the world upside down. All the values, all the things that we continue to say to our children and pass on, most of them are: “Now you work hard, and you’ve got to make a lot of money or you’ve got to have style, you’ve got to have this and you have to have that.” And it’s always we, we, me, me.
And it’s never God gives His own Son, His Son gives his own life and out of that life, he discovers who we are and out of that life, we discover who we are. Because there is nothing other than one gift and that gift is God’s love to be received, not only today but every day of our lives, and to take God into our lives, into our hearts, into our minds, into our problems, into the wonderful things that happen to us in praise, and the sorrowful things that happen to us sometimes with the greatest of tragedy. This is what makes Christmas Christmas and it will always be Christmas, it will always be the child given to us in love.
The thing to remember about love is you cannot have love unless you’re vulnerable, and you cannot have love unless you reach out to those around you for help. And, of course, this is the great message. You must learn not to be afraid of your vulnerability, not be afraid of having faith in the people around you to take care of you, for that’s what Jesus does. And he puts his faith in whom? A teenage girl who has been given the great privilege of being his mother, and a foster father who was the town carpenter.
And now I’m going to end this because we could go on all day with it.
I’m going to tell the one story I know that somehow illustrates for me everything that Christmas means. And it’s a story told by a writer named O. Henry. And O. Henry lived in New York City, which happens to be my city. And he wrote during the end of the 1800s. And my father was a great fan of his, so, every Christmas, I used to get a little book of O. Henry’s short stories. He wrote many, many short stories.
O. Henry was the right one to write about love. Why? Because he was in jail. He was arrested for finagling or some kind of… and he spent a good time in jail. We don’t know what he learned in jail but we do know what he learned when he came out. The one thing that O. Henry could do was write stories and he wrote them prolifically. And every Christmas I would always remember the stories of O. Henry.
This one is called The Gift of the Magi and it goes like this.
In New York City around 1890s, in that period of time, there was a great depression on. And it was very, very hard to live in New York, especially immigrant families. And they came poor and they worked very hard and many died in despair never seeing their families again. Anyhow, one thing was certain, this was a tough life.
Now there was a young man, he was an auditor, he wasn’t an auditor, he was a little clerk. He was a clerk and he was holding onto his job. And he had this lovely lady who was his wife. And we’ll call them Mary and Joseph.
Joseph, who worked very hard all day long, just trying to eke out enough of a living that he might support this lovely lady who he had married. And they lived in a cold water flat in Brooklyn. And, each day, the two things that they shared…
Each had a very special thing about them now.
She had long golden hair which came down all the way to her waist, and when she combed it out, which was seldom, it was the most beautiful thing that her husband ever saw.
He, on his part, was very poor, but he had one possession that was a bit of a treasure for him and it was this, that his great grandfather, who was a wealthy man before everything happened, the great grandfather left to him a watch, a golden pocket watch. And every time someone was going to look upon him as just a poor wastrel, he’d pull out this beautiful gold watch and let everyone see that he mattered because he had this gold watch.
Anyhow, Christmas was coming on and the two of them loved each other and they were wondering what to do because times were hard and they were looking around for ways and means so that they might be able to give something worthwhile to each other.
And, of course, the woman found out first, because she was a very smart lady. What she found out was that you could sell your hair in those times because they didn’t have artificial hair. You could sell your hair and her hair would be worth a small fortune. So she decided what she would do is she would cut off all her hair and then sell it and use the money to buy a gift for her husband.
Now the husband felt the same thing. He had only one thing to offer, so he sold his watch. And she bought for him…
This is the main point of the story. On Christmas day, they opened up each other’s gifts. He had bought for her a set of lovely combs that she could comb her lovely hair. And then she looked at him and he said, because they wore bandanas around their heads all the time, “Why don’t you take off your kerchief.” And she took it off and…no hair.
And then she said, “But that’s okay, my hair will grow back. Now you open your gift.” And in the gift was a gold watch chain that she had sold her hair so that he would have a wonderful Christmas.
And he looked at it and they looked at each other and, at first, it seemed like a disaster. And then they began to smile, and then they began to laugh, and then they began to dance, and then they began to sing, because it was the most precious of all gifts to know the one that you married loved you beyond all things, that they would let go of the one valuable thing they had in their life in order to pay tribute to each other’s love.
In a word, love is giving, and this is the way God comes, so that we might see Him as a child and learn how to love, learn how to take people in need, learn how to take people in our care, learn how to be responsible for people, learn in a sense the message of life.
And the message of life is: unless we learn how to love as God loves, giving, giving, giving, we will never know God and we will never know when the hunger in our own hearts will be fully satisfied.
Merry Christmas everyone!
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This homily was delivered on 25th December 2009.
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