Homily – Christmas 2020

Nativity scene in front of the altar at St. Edward's Church, 2020

In today’s first reading, we heard the prophecy of Isaiah which – each year in a very solemn way – introduces us to this extraordinary Christmas atmosphere. The darkness that enveloped the entire earth was defeated by the mighty light of the Incarnation of God. From this amazing night, we can listen anew to the most joyful message that has been given to the shepherds in today’s Gospel. Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy that can be shared by all the people. Today in the city of David a Saviour has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord. The angel announced to the shepherds something they had never heard before, that the One who – frees from captivity, saves from falling, who rescues from oppression – is already among us.

As we heard, the shepherds without any hesitation went in a hurry to see for themselves everything they had heard from the angel. Remembering all the signs, they found Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus laying in a manger. They entered the grotto and offered Jesus their modest gifts, including the most precious gift of their faith.

Recently, I heard a slightly different, but very similar story that inspired me very much and helped me understand better the most important message of this silent and holy night. So, let me share this very short story with you.

Now, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the shepherds ran to the manger taking with them various different gifts. Each of them wanted to offer Jesus something very special, most beautiful and precious. One of them brought something to eat, honey, cheese, some milk. Another shepherd brought some warm clothes, blankets, and another brought some toys for baby Jesus to play with. Each of the shepherds was very kind and generous to the holy family, but one of them had nothing to offer. He was very poor and had nothing to give. While others proudly presented their gifts, competing and arguing with each other – who of them was more inventive and generous – this one poor shepherd stood very embarrassed and shy trying to hide behind the backs of others and hoping no one would notice him. At one point, however, receiving all these gifts became for Joseph and Mary quite a difficult task to bear. Especially for Mary, this work became more and more exhausting, as at the same time she had to gently hold and rock the baby Jesus. So, when she noticed this poor shepherd who had nothing to offer do the Baby, she asked him to come closer and show her his empty hands. What happened at that moment, surprised all the gathered people, as Mary came up even closer to this poor shepherd and gently placed the Baby Jesus in his hands. At that moment, this inconspicuous young shepherd took the little baby in his arms and realized that he had received what he never deserved. He realized how privileged and happy he was – holding in his hands the greatest and most wonderful gift of world history. The Shepherd smiled and looked at his hands again, because – although they were completely empty so far – at that moment they had become something more than only hands, they had become a real Throne for God.

Perhaps we too would like to offer Jesus something wonderful and precious tonight. Perhaps we came to the Church because we would like to offer him something very special, our joy, smile and enthusiasm. Perhaps we would like to sing Christmas carols to express our joy, faith and great love for Him. But even if our hearts are full of anxiety, fear and concern for our future, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph want to tell each of us something very simple but extremely important at the same time – this silent and holy night is for you. Yes, this holy night is for you and for me! It is true that this particular Christmas 2020 is completely different and we will probably always remember it. It is as some people say “a difficult, unusual or even strange Christmas”. But the essence and meaning of this holy night remains the same and completely independent of any circumstances of the pandemic. God becomes a helpless child and he wants to live among us and be present in our everyday life, even when our hands seem empty and we have nothing to offer him, even if our hearts are full of fear and anxiety for the future. Let us try to be like this poor shepherd who did not keep the little Baby only for himself, but showed Jesus to others and shared with others the joy of this wonderful Bethlehem night.

Lord Jesus Christ, who come to us as a helpless and innocent child to enrich us with your poverty, pour into our hearts hope and sincere love for you, so that – together with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds – we may experience the full joy of this silent and holy night. Let our hands and our hearts – strengthened by your grace and our good deeds – become your manger and the most wonderful throne.

Fr Gregory