Isaiah 52:7–10; Hebrews 1:1–6; John 1:1–18
God’s Christmas Gift to Us
Jesus gave to the world the news that God is our Father and we are brothers and sisters.
Some years ago, during a trip to the Holy Land, James Martin bought a nativity set.
All the figures were there: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.
When Martin arrived at the Tel Aviv airport for his return trip to the United States, security was extremely tight. The customs officers checked and x-rayed each figure, even the baby Jesus.
“We can’t take any chances,” the officer apologized to Martin. “We have to be sure there’s nothing explosive in this set!”
Afterward Martin thought to himself, “If that officer only knew! That set contains the most explosive power in the world.”
The explosive power Martin was talking about is infinitely greater than the combined nuclear power of the United States and the Soviet Union.
And what is this power?
It’s not the infinite power of God that created the world in the flicker of an eyelash and is capable of destroying it with the snap of a finger.
The power Martin is talking about is the power Jesus brought with him into the world on that first Christmas night.
It is a power unlike any other the world had ever know up to that point.
The uniqueness of that power is dramatized by the way Jesus came into the world.
Jesus came not as a powerful prince, living in a great mansion in the most powerful nation on earth. He came into the world
as the son of a poor carpenter, living in a dirty stable in one of the weakest nations on earth.
Jesus came into the world as you and I did: naked, helpless, fragile, vulnerable. Like each of us, he had to wait for other human beings to take care of him.
He knew hunger.
He knew thirst.
He knew pain.
He experienced ridicule.
He experienced rejection.
He even experienced the worst death anyone could experience—crucifixion.
And when Jesus arrived in the world, he wasn’t greeted by world leaders. He wasn’t greeted by generals. He wasn’t greeted by celebrities.
Jesus was greeted by smelly shepherds whose earthly status was so low that their testimony was not accepted in a court of law.
When Jesus came into the world, he identified himself with the poor, the suffering, the powerless, even the sinful.
And this brings us to the power that Jesus brought with him into the world.
The great power that Jesus brought into the world is the power contained in the incredible message that Jesus brought with him. It is a twofold message.
First of all, it is the “good news” that the great God of heaven and earth loves us—each one of us. God loves us without exception and without reservation.
The great God of heaven and earth loves us so much that he didn’t send a letter to tell us. He didn’t send an angel.
He “cared enough to send the very best.” He sent his own Son.
And this brings us to the second half of the message Jesus brought into the world.
It is the additional “good news” that the great God of heaven and earth not only loves us but is our Father, and we are all brothers and sisters.
It is this incredible message that made the non-Christian historian H. G. Wells rank Jesus first among all the people who ever lived. Commenting on his choice of Jesus,
“I am speaking of him as a man. . . . The historian must treat him as a man just as the painter must paint him as a man.”
The historian, says Wells, must disregard the fact that many people consider Jesus to be the Son of God. He has to stick with those undeniable facts that would go unchallenged and be accepted by every person on earth, believers and nonbelievers.
Commenting on the incredible message of Jesus,
“It is one of the most revolutionary changes of outlook that has ever stirred and changed human thought. No age has even yet understood fully the tremendous challenge it carries. . . . But the world began to be a different world from the day that doctrine was preached.”
The historian’s test of a person’s greatness, says Wells, is, What did he leave to grow? Did he start people thinking along exciting new lines that continued to grow after his death?
By this test, Jesus towers above everyone else who has ever lived.
The power contained in the Christmas scene is the power of the twofold message Jesus brought to into the world.
It is the message that the great God of heaven and earth is our loving Father and that we are to be loving brothers and sisters.
This incredible message is God’s Christmas gift to each one of us. What we do with it is our gift to God.
And this brings us to the challenge of Christmas.
It is summarized beautifully in this poem by an unknown poet:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks, the work of Christmas begins:
“to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among brothers,
to make music with the heart.”
Isaiah 52:7–10; Hebrews 1:1–6; John 1:1–5, 9–14
As Christ was a light in his world, we must be a light in our world.
On Sunday afternoon, June 1, 1975, Darrel Dore
was on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Suddenly it wobbled, tipped to one side, and crashed into the sea.
Darrel was trapped inside a room on the rig. As the rig sank deeper and deeper into the sea, the lights in the room went out and the room began to fill up with water.
Thrashing about in the darkness, Darrel accidentally found a huge air bubble that was forming in the corner of the room. He thrust his head inside it.
Then a horrifying thought—“I’m buried alive’’—sent a shiver down his spine. He began to pray out loud. As he did, something remarkable happened.
He said later:
“I found myself actually talking to Someone. Jesus was there with me. There was no illumination, nothing physical.
But I sensed him, a comforting Presence. He was real.
He was there.’’
For the next 22 hours that Presence continued to comfort Darrel. But now the oxygen supply inside the bubble was giving out. Death was inevitable. It was just a matter of time.
Then a second remarkable thing happened. Darrel saw a tiny star of light shimmering in the pitch-black water.
Was it real, or after 22 hours, was he beginning to hallucinate?
Darrel squinted his eyes. The light seemed to grow brighter.
Darrel squinted again.
He wasn’t hallucinating; the light was real. It was coming from a diver’s helmet. Someone had found him. His 22-hour nightmare was over. Rescue had come; he was saved!
That true story is a remarkable illustration of what Christmas is all about.
Sin had wobbled our world, tipped it to one side, and sent it crashing into the waters of spiritual disaster. Darkness was everywhere. The human race was helplessly trapped. There was no hope. Humankind was doomed to certain spiritual death.
People turned to God and prayed in the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“[O LORD], you were angry with us, but we went on sinning;
.. . All of us have been sinful; . . . But you are our father, LORD. Isaiah 64:5, 6, 8
Then, when the night seemed darkest, something remarkable happened. A tiny star of light appeared in the sky.
Some shepherds, who were the first to see it, asked one another, “Is it real? Or are we hallucinating?’’
They squinted their eyes. The light seemed to grow brighter.
They squinted again.
They were not hallucinating; the light was real.
And then a second remarkable thing happened.
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. . . .the angel said to them, . . .
“ ‘I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord!’ ” Luke 2:9–11
And so the nightmare of the human race ended. Rescue had come. Jesus, the Son of God, had come down from heaven to save the human race, just as the diver had come down to save Darrel.
If we had to choose one image to symbolize what Christmas is all about, we would choose the image of light. We would choose light for two reasons.
First, Jesus himself chose light to describe why he came into the world, saying:
“I am the light of the world. . . .
Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.” John 8:12
Before Jesus came on Christmas, people were lost, staggering about in darkness. By his birth, Jesus changed all of that.
He rescued us from darkness and showed us the way to the Father.
Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Right after that historic flight, he flew his plane from Paris to England. When it came time to fly back to Paris, the weather was so bad that he could not see well enough to find his way back. Lindbergh was stuck.
But just then a plane that carried mail daily from England to Paris took off. Lindbergh jumped into his own plane and tailgated the other plane all the way to Paris.
Jesus is something like that English plane. He knows the way to the Father, and by following him, we too can find our way through the darkness to the Father.
The second reason that light is a perfect symbol of Christmas is because Jesus said to his disciples,
“You are like light for the whole world. . . . In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14, 16
In other words, just as Jesus is a light for us, so we are to be a light for others.
We’re to show them the way out of the darkness, as Jesus did for us.
Some time ago a team of paramedics received an emergency call to rush a 90-year-old woman to the hospital.
Ken Bourassa, the ambulance driver, said,
“I sensed that I was giving her her last ride.’’
But what struck Ken most was the beautiful faith and peace that radiated like light from the woman. Ken, who had once been an active Catholic, said that she was more of a comfort to them than they were to her.
Ken then added that the deep faith and peace that radiated from the woman became a major reason for his returning to the practice of his Catholic faith.
In other words, that elderly woman acted as a light to Ken,
showing him the way out of the darkness.
That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s celebrating the victory of light over darkness.
First, it celebrates the fact that Jesus came as a light into the darkness of our world, rescued us, and showed us the way to the Father.
Second, it celebrates the fact that Jesus has called us to be a light in our world, just as he was a light in his world.
Let’s close with these beautiful words from the gospel of the Christmas Day Mass:
In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . .The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. John 1:1, 4–5
Isaiah 52:7–10, Hebrews 1:1–6, John 1:1–18
A special time of special grace.
Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another. John 1:16
This is a true Christmas story about a real man named Dan Wakefield.
He was riding high in life. Four of his novels were Literary Guild selections. One was made into a movie.
Yet, Dan was not happy. His autobiography, called Returning: A Spiritual Journey, explains why.
When he abandoned his faith in college, he was left with a deep spiritual void. He tried to fill it with drugs, but they only made it worse.
Then one morning in Hollywood he woke up screaming.
Some instinct told him to return to the one place where he felt most at home: Boston. So he returned home to Boston.
Just before Christmas, he was sitting in “The Sevens,”
a neighborhood bar on Charles Street.
A housepainter named Tony was at the table with him.
Suddenly, out of the blue, Tony said he thought he might go to midnight Mass on Christmas.
Dan didn’t say anything, but for the first time in years, he felt a similar desire to reconnect with his faith.
And so on Christmas Eve, he found himself in church, listening to the Christmas story, and he knew what he must do.
Dan did not have the courage to return to church again until Easter. But the experience did lead him to do a lot of reading and reflecting.
Slowly, the dying embers of his faith began to glow inside him once again. But he still had a distance to go. Twice, he slipped back to taking drugs.
But these failures did not extinguish the spiritual hunger within him. Rather, they only served to intensify it.
Then, one day, the storm within him broke like a fever.
He writes: “I felt in touch again, and in the light.”
Three things, especially, helped Dan get in touch with the light again.
The first was a firm decision to put daily prayer back into his daily life. He says that implementing this decision gave him an interior calm.
More importantly, it gradually built up and strengthened his faith, just as physical exercise builds up and strengthens the body. But it was not easy.
People who embark on programs of physical exercise have mornings when the last thing they want to do is get out of a warm bed and jog.
Dan found the same temptation present as he embarked on his program of spiritual exercise. There were days when the last thing he wanted to do was to keep his appointment with God.
But he stayed with it, and the cumulative impact began to change his life in a tremendous way.
The second thing that helped Dan, in a special way, was a decision to reconnect with the Christian community on a weekly basis.
And so he returned to the practice of worshiping in community each Sunday. Again, it was not easy, but he persevered.
Finally, the third thing that helped him was a conscious effort to help others who, like him, had special needs.
In the process of doing this, Dan learned firsthand the truth of those famous words by Albert Schweitzer, the great missionary doctor:
I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know,
the only ones among you who will be truly happy
are those who have sought and found a way to serve.
The story of Dan is a story that has been repeated in one form or another Christmas after Christmas.
Some people who come to Christmas Mass have never been to Mass all year—or merely on occasions.
Like the shepherds in the field, they hear in their Christmas hearts a song being sung by heavenly beings.
They suddenly find themselves being drawn to church to worship the Christ child.
And like Dan, they end up receiving the greatest gift from the Christ child that anyone could ever receive: the grace to reconnect with their faith.
And that brings us to each one of us in this church.
It is our Christmas prayer that the Christ child will bless
each one of you and your families with a similar Christmas gift—whatever it may be.
And may you share that gift with all you meet in the year ahead.
Let’s close with a passage adapted from an ancient Christmas homily by Pope Saint Leo the Great. It reads:
Today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. . . .
No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. . . .
Let the saint rejoice as he sees the hope of victory at hand.
Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness.
Let the person without faith take courage as he hears the call to believe.
For in the fullness of time . . .the Son of God took unto himself
the common humanity we share in order to reconcile it with its creator. . . .
And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy:
“Glory to God in the highest . . .I am here with good news for you. . . .
“This is the very day in David’s town your Savior was
born—Christ the Lord!”