Christmas celebrates how, through Jesus’ visitation and by his presence within us, our Lord joins us. With him we are changed from all that is merely human, toward being more than simply human. He transforms us beyond the limits of what we presently know. And he fulfills the potential that our loving God has placed within us. This is why we gather to celebrate the Nativity on what is often a day other than Sunday. Because we yearn for more.
St. Francis of Assisi figured this out long ago. In what some mistakenly call the ‘dark ages,’ he perceived a light-filled truth. Blessed Francis figured out that every one of us, educated or uneducated, rich like his father or poor like himself… that every one of us needs something. We need not only to hear The Great Story at some point in our lives. We need to hear The Story over and over again. And not only hear it, but also see it. And when we hear and see the story again and again, its truth has great power to overcome our spiritual deafness and blindness, and soak into our dry hearts and minds. It is to blessed Francis that we owe having nativity scenes in our churches and homes. And it is to Francis that we owe including nativity ‘plays’ in our liturgy at Christmas. Christmas is all about how the great thing that we seek has come near, into our midst, available to our experience.
In the painting above, James Tissot has beautifully captured St. Francis’ insight about the nativity scene. Notice how unearthly light radiates outward from the holy child. At the bidding of angels, lowly shepherds have come looking for him. What joy warms their hearts in this fulfillment of their search ~ the same fulfillment we can find for our own unceasing search. Their joy can be ours, as we reflect on what we hope for by our celebration of Jesus’ birth.
The Great One who was, and is, and is to come, is here! He is here in love because he will always be with us. As the Gospels promise, we find in the Nativity the fulfillment of our abiding human desire ~ our desire for true meaning and purpose, and lasting love. We discover it in God’s self-revealing, and in the manifestation of the Spirit’s presence. Paradoxically, we find God’s presence in the most vulnerable form of human presence ~ in a baby born in the filth of a stable, where animals are brought in from the harsh and inhospitable winter fields around us.
And so, our Christmas discovery begins when we acknowledge that we yearn for more than what we apprehend every day. In the face of Jesus, we meet the fulfillment of our yearning. For in him we find abiding love, true meaning and purpose.
This post is based on my homily for Christmas Eve, December 1624 2018, which can be accessed by clicking here. Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.
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