Homily Christmas Day 2021

Christmas nativity

Christmas 2021

I am sure that today on this Holy Night all our thoughts and also our eyes are fixed on the new born Baby Jesus laid in the manger in front of the altar, as we all would like to experience the same incredible joy that Mary, Joseph and the shepherds shared 2000 years ago. Let me start my reflection with something I heard from my mum when I was a young child. She liked to tell me many interesting stories just to help me fall asleep, but mainly to help me understand many Bible stories including the main message of the Bethlehem night.

I remember that one evening, shortly before Christmas she told me a simple story about a young teenager whose name was Emanuel, and who wanted to know what language God speaks. Each of us has our own language – he used to say – so, God must have his own language too. First, he asked his parents, then the priest and teachers at school, but none of them knew the answer to such a bizarre and childish question. Then Emanuel patiently asked his brothers and sisters, his grandparents, and his friends, but – like his parents and teachers – no one was able to answer this funny and unusual question. There must be someone who can help me – thought to himself the discouraged boy – getting more and more tired of searching for an answer. Emanuel was very persistent and kept asking the same question for many years, even as an adult man. And finally, he decided to go to distant countries, hoping that at least somewhere far away he would solve this great mystery. He travelled the world for many years, visited many places but he still got the same answer – I have no idea! Go somewhere else and ask somebody wiser! Finally, one night, he reached a small town called Bethlehem which means ‘Town of Bread’. It was very late when he arrived, so there was nowhere for him to stay. After a long search, Emanuel went outside the town, hoping that at least there – among the homeless and poor people, or perhaps among shepherds and their sheep – he would find a safe place for himself.

I think that at this stage, each of us can guess where this story is going. Emanuel found a grotto where a fire was burning, and when he went inside, he was surprised by such a warm welcome from the people he found. The young mother said to him: Good evening, Emanuel, we have been expecting you here. You have travelled the world for a long time, and I know exactly why. You have been travelling looking for an answer to the difficult question that nobody was able to answer. Today your patience will be rewarded and you will be able to experience what language God speaks to us. Today you can see that indeed: God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. Yes, God speaks to us in the language of love! At that moment, Emanuel didn’t know what to say. Moved, he fell on his knees in front of the little Baby Jesus and cried with joy. From that moment on, no one doubts what language God speaks to us. It is the simplest and the most beautiful language, understandable to all people in the world, regardless of their nationality and also of the period of history. Excited by this joyful news, Emanuel stayed for a few days with the Holy Family, helping Mary and Joseph, and then went back home having found out the answer to his question and ready to spread it.

Indeed, God constantly speaks to us in the language of love and we have probably heard his gentle voice in so many joyful but also in these difficult or even painful experiences of our lives. God spoke to us especially through the mystery of His coming to earth, through His Incarnation, which we commemorate in the liturgy every year on this day. But He speaks to us also through other people, through our parents, children, friends and sometimes through people we meet by chance in so many places where we work and rest. God speaks to us every Sunday – mostly through the sacraments – and as we listen to His Word. Sometimes He speaks to us through many things and events which we find difficult and hard to accept and understand. He speaks to us in this difficult time of the pandemic, through our human solidarity and through so many acts of care and kindness to each other.

Today’s gospel which we listen to and ponder every year, tells us the wonderful story about Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and about the great love and care they showed for each other. But on the other hand, the same story tells us about the lack of love and compassion, it tells us about indifference, rejection and so many difficulties that the Holy Family had to face from the very beginning. As the gospel says: The time came for Mary to have her child… She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. Today, as we begin the Christmas season, St Luke the evangelist invites us once again to reflect on what the Christmas story means to us personally and to ask ourselves: where am I in this particular Gospel scene. Am I like Mary and Joseph who showed love to Jesus or perhaps am I like all the people of Bethlehem who closed the doors of their homes to Him? Let us ask God especially during Christmas, but also later when this holy time is over, that we will try to draw our strength and wisdom from the Word of God and – following the example of the Holy Family and the shepherds – that we may speak to others only with the language of love.

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. May our hearts – strengthened by your love and grace – become your manger and the most wonderful throne.

Fr Gregory