Homily: When the song of angels is stilled, the work of Christmas begins…

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a child. As such it is a celebration of joy. Our message for all is about joy and life. We affirm the value of all human life. We work to put an end to all those things which destroy life and the quality of life for all.

As we celebrate Christmas 2013, it is helpful to our spiritual life to spend more than a glancing-moment in our reading of Christmas Cards with their notes of good wishes both printed and hand-written. It is good for our souls also to  spend time with the pictures or drawings on those cards and notes. We look too quickly at the signature. Do that first, as is natural, and then again after spending time with the card. It will become a prayer and a preparation for the Christmas Liturgy.

At Christmas, 2001, Pope John Paul II said: “Our hearts this Christmas are anxious and distressed because of the continuation in various parts of the world of war, social tensions, and the painful hardships in which so many people find themselves. We are all seeking an answer that will reassure us.

In the words of Howard Thurman, African-American mystic:

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 their flock,

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 others,

To make music in the heart.

The Christmas story lends itself to reflection on many issues of the human condition today. The experience of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus parallels the experience of many people who are poor and powerless even as we speak.

(1) Mary and Joseph are subject to the whims of the powerful as they have  to travel to Bethlehem for the census.

(2) The Holy Family is  homeless when they arrive in Bethlehem.

(3) They become refugees in Egypt to escape the danger of death in Israel.

(4) As the child is born, most people are going on with their daily lives and  do not recognize the presence of God.

(5) Only the shepherds are able to detect the presence of God in the child that is born to a homeless family in a stable.

At Christmas time we encounter many temptations. There is the temptation to be sentimental. There is the temptation to get too involved in elaborate gift giving.

There is the temptation to focus just on our small circle of family and friends and the temptation to make Christmas into a celebration of our prosperity.  There is also the temptation to impose too many expectations on this holiday and forget what we are celebrating.

The details of Jesus’ birth challenges us to be engaged with those who are poor and powerless today. The experience of those in the Christmas story is not unlike the experience of millions of refugees and displaced people in our world today, of children born into poverty, of agricultural workers, called illegal, who have no land of their own, of the poor and the underemployed in the US who are losing their benefits, of the many being given the chance to receive health care but are confused, of those who are homeless, of those who are caught up in the terrible experiences of war and terrorist acts, of those whose lives are controlled by the power of large corporations and impersonal governments, of those who go on with their busy lives without any significant awareness of the presence and goodness of God in the ordinary things of life.

As Pope John XXIII said in his great encyclical “Peace on Earth” May Christ banish from the hearts of all people whatever might endanger peace, may Christ transform us into witnesses of truth, justice and love. May Christ enlighten the rulers of peoples so that in addition to their solicitude for the proper welfare of their citizens, they may guarantee and defend the great gift of peace; may Christ enkindle the wills of all, so that we may overcome the barriers that divide, cherish the bonds of mutual charity, understand others, and pardon those who have done us wrong. And may all peoples of the earth become as brothers and sisters, and may the most longed-for peace blossom forth and reign always among us.

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