Why do we celebrate Christmas with great rejoicing?
1: First, Christmas is the Feast of God’s sending us a Savior: God undertook the Incarnation of Jesus as True God and true man to save us from the bondage of sin. The Hindus believe in ten incarnations of God. The purpose of these incarnations is stated in their Holy Scripture, Bagavath Geetha or Song of God. “God incarnates to restore righteousness in the world whenever there is a large-scale erosion of moral values.” (“Dharma samstaphanarthe sambhavami yuge yuge.”). But the Christian Scriptures teach only one Incarnation, and its purpose is given in John 3:16: “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life.” We celebrate the Incarnation of God as a Baby today as Good News because we have a Divine Savior. As our Savior, Jesus liberated us from slavery to sin and atoned for our sins by his suffering, death and Resurrection. So, every Christmas reminds us that we need a Savior every day, to free us from our evil addictions and unjust, impure and uncharitable tendencies. Christmas 2019 also challenges us to accept Jesus in the manger as our saving God and personal Savior and to surrender our lives to him, allowing him to rule our hearts and lives every day in the New Year.
# 2: Second, Christmas is the Feast of God’s sharing His love with us: Jesus, as our Savior, brought the “Good News” that our God is a loving, forgiving, merciful and rewarding God and not a judgmental, cruel and punishing God. He demonstrated by his life and teaching how God our Heavenly Father loves us, forgives us, provides for us and rewards us. All his miracles were signs of this Divine Love. Jesus’ final demonstration of God’s love for us was his death on the cross to atone for our sins and to make us children of God. Each Christmas reminds us that sharing love with others is our Christian privilege and duty, and every time we do that, Jesus is reborn in our lives. Let us face this question, “What does it profit me if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world and He is not born in my heart?” (Alexander Pope). Hence, let us allow Jesus to be reborn in our hearts and lives, not only during Christmas, but every day, so that he may radiate the light of his presence from within us as sharing and selfless love, expressed in compassionate words and deeds, unconditional forgiveness, the spirit of humble service and overflowing generosity.
# 3: Third, Christmas is the Feast of the Emmanuel (God living with us and within us): Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel because God in the New Testament is a God who continues to live with us in all the events of our lives as the “Emmanuel” announced by the angel to Mary. As Emmanuel, Jesus lives in the Sacraments (especially in the Holy Eucharist), in the Bible, in the praying community and in each believer as the Holy Spirit residing in us makes us His “Temples.” Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary privilege and duty of conveying Jesus to those around us by loving them as Jesus did, through sacrificial, humble and committed service. Sharing with others Jesus, the Emmanuel living within us, is the best Christmas gift we can give, or receive, today.
Christmas homily starter anecdotes: 1) Christmas questions answered: A.) Is Christmas the greatest feast celebrated in the Church? The answer is no. Easter is feast #1, Pentecost is #2 and Christmas is #3. The Roman Church started celebrating Christmas only after Christianity was recognized as the state religion. B) Was Jesus born on December 25th? The answer is no. Many Fathers of the Church thought that Jesus was born on January 4th, in 4 B.C. before the death of King Herod the Great. Some Bible scholars fix Jesus’ birth in the month of September during the Feast of the Tabernacles when people travelled and when the sheep were in the field at night. December 25th was fixed by Pope Julius in A.D. 353 as a part of baptizing or Christianizing pagan feasts so that the converted pagans might celebrate the birthday of Jesus on Dec 25th instead of celebrating the birthday the Sun-god during winter solstice, while converted Roman soldiers might celebrate Christmas instead the birthday of Mitra, the Roman god-of-virility. The Romans called their winter holiday Saturnalia, honoring the god of agriculture, Saturn. Later the Kalends of January were observed to celebrate the triumph of life over death. The entire season was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun., or Saturnalia). It was Emperor Julianus who declared Christmas as a national holiday in the 6th century. Most of the present-day Christmas decorations like the Christmas carols and gifts, Christmas tree and Christmas lights are also remnants of the pagan celebrations. (It was St. Francis of Assisi who first introduced the manger or Christmas crib in the 13th century. C) Where did the name Christmas originate? In medieval times, the celebration of Christmas took the form of a special Mass celebrated at midnight on the eve of Christ’s birth. Since this was the only time in the Catholic Church year when a Midnight Mass was allowed, it soon became known in Middle English as Christes Masse (Christ’s Mass), from which is derived Christmas. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
2) The first live Christmas crib: In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi inaugurated a pious practice that today has become so common that many think that it always existed. This great saint, as he was traversing the rolling hills of central Italy one December to proclaim the Gospel, noticed that few of his countrymen were taking the mysteries of the Faith seriously. Many were not even preparing for Christmas. Of those who were getting ready to celebrate the Lord’s birth, they looked at it as an event tied exclusively to the past. The mysteries of the Faith had become sterile. The central persons in the drama had become stale and lifeless, incapable even of stimulating his contemporaries’ imaginations — and therefore no longer capable of inspiring them to a greater relationship of mutual love with God in the present. To counteract these tendencies, St. Francis set up the first crèche in recorded history on Christmas Eve, 1223, in the town of Greccio. He brought in live animals — an ox and an ass. He recruited a newborn baby and a set of young parents. Hay and a manger were brought in. There was even the attempt — with hundreds of burning torches — to create the luminescence of a bright star. And Francis could not have been happier with the results. People came from all over to see the living nativity. Through all the sounds, sights and even smells, the multitudes became convinced that Christmas was not just a cute story, but a real event, one that was not just PAST, but something which they were called to enter in the present. Soon living crèches like this spread throughout Italy and into other parts of Europe. The phenomenon soon extended into art, as artists started to paint nativity scenes with all the main characters dressed anachronistically in 13th century garb — to emphasize that Christmas is not just a bygone event, but, more important, one very much in progress, in which every believer is called to “go now to Bethlehem” and “pay [Christ] homage.” As St. Francis’ first biographer wrote, “The Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of God’s grace, [the child Jesus] was brought to life again through his servant Francis and stamped upon their fervent memory.” (Fr. Roger Landry) (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ).
3) Summarizing theology in one sentence: Karl Barth, one of the great Protestant theologians was asked to be a guest lecturer at the University of Chicago Divinity School. At the end of a captivating closing lecture, the president of the seminary announced that Dr. Barth was not well and was quite tired. “Therefore, I will ask just one question on behalf of all of us.” He turned to the renowned theologian and asked, “Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider to be the greatest of them all? “It was the perfect question for a man who had written literally tens of thousands of pages of some of the most sophisticated theology ever put into print. Karl Barth closed his tired eyes, and he thought for a minute, and then he half smiled, opened his eyes, and said to those young seminarians, “The greatest theological insight that I have ever had is this: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Christmas is the celebration of this great Divine Love for us sinful humans. (Rev. Bill Adams) (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ).
4) Abnormal birth: After explaining childbirth, the biology teacher asked her 3rd graders to write an essay on “childbirth” in their families. Susan went home and asked her mother how she was born. Her mother, who was busy at the time, said, “A big white swan brought you darling, and left you on our doorstep.” Continuing her research, she asked grandma how she got her mother as a child. Being in the middle of something, her grandma similarly deflected the question by saying, “A fairy brought your mom as a little baby, and I found her in our garden in an open box”. Then the girl went and asked her great-grandmother how she got her grandma as a baby. “I picked her from a box I found in the gooseberry bush,” said the surprised great grandma. With this information the girl wrote her essay. When the teacher asked her later to read it in front of the class, she stood up and began, “I was very sad to find out that there has not been a single natural birth in our family for three generations… All our children were extraterrestrials.” (Rev. Fairchild). Today the words of Isaiah tell us of another non-normal birth. It’s a non-normal birth, never before, nor after, seen or experienced, because it is the birth of God as man – Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, as our Savior. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ).
1) “How many people attend your Church?” one pastor asked another. “Sixty regular, and about three hundred C and E.” “What’s C and E?” the first asked. Came the quick answer: “Christmas and Easter. We call them Poinsettias and Easter Lilies.”
2) “God gets an A; you get an F.” Just before Christmas a college professor read the following on an examination paper: “God only knows the answer to this question. Merry Christmas.” Across the same paper the professor wrote: “God gets an A; you get an F. Happy New Year.”
3) A beautiful diamond ring for Christmas: A guy bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas. A friend of his said, “I thought she wanted one of those sporty 4-Wheel drive vehicles.” “She did,” he replied. “But where in the heck was I gonna find a fake Jeep?”
4) “Your mother and I are getting a divorce”: An elderly man in Oklahoma calls his son in New York and says, “I hate to ruin your day son, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are getting a divorce; 45 years of marriage… and that much misery is enough!” “Dad, what are you talking about?” the son yells. “We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,” the old dad explained. “We’re sick of each other, and I’m sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Hong Kong and tell her!”. Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. “Like heck they’re getting divorced,” she shouts, “I’ll take care of this.” She calls her elderly father immediately, and screams at him, “You are not getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, you hear me?” she yelled as she hung up the phone. The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. “Okay”, he says, “it’s all set. They’re both coming for Christmas and paying their own air-fare.”
5) “Didn’t You Get My E-Mail?” As a little girl climbed onto Santa’s lap, Santa asked the usual, “And what would you like for Christmas?” The child stared at him open-mouthed and horrified for a minute, then gasped, “Didn’t you get my E-mail?”
6) “I’ll return when you’re sober:” At Christmas a man came to see me with a problem. Sniffing the air, I said ‘I’m sorry I can’t help you. Mick– it’s because of the drink. Can you please come back later?’ ‘That’s okay, Father Paddy,’ he replied. ‘I’ll return when you’re sober’ (Rev. Paddy O’Kane)
7) Is Jesus Still a Baby? A little girl went with a group of family and friends to see the Christmas light displays at various locations throughout the city. At one church, they stopped and got out to look more closely at a beautifully done nativity scene. “Isn’t that beautiful?” said the little girl’s grandmother. “Look at all the animals, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.” “Yes, Grandma,” replied the granddaughter. “It is really nice. But there is only one thing that bothers me. Isn’t baby Jesus ever going to grow up… he’s the same size he was last year.” L/19
[Prepared by: Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604 ]