One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

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The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

December 25, 2006

For the Mass at Night on the Nativity of the Lord

Luke 2:1-14
Isaiah 9:106
Titus 2:11-14

The Gospel tonight describes Christ’s birth with four phrases.
she gave birth to her firstborn son

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes

laid him in a manger

there was no room for them in the inn

This tight report tells us nothing about the feelings of Joseph and Mary.
We don’t hear if they were sad, angry, afraid, or joyful.
However, what we hear tonight about the shepherds is that they were sorely terrified.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.

Sometimes angels brought angry or frightening messages from God.
God sometimes sent angels to kill people.
The shepherds had strong, Biblical reasons to be afraid, to be very afraid.
Tonight was to be different.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid”

During the events that led up to and surrounded the birth of Christ, this was the fourth time that an angel found it necessary to say, “Do not be afraid!”
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, met an angel who told him of the things to come.
“Do not be afraid!”
The Blessed Virgin Mary met an angel who greatly disturbed her with the greeting, “Hail, all-filled with grace!”
“Do not be afraid!”
Joseph, who would be the husband of Mary, met an angel who told him what was happening with his bride-to-be.
“Do not be afraid!”
Now Christ is born, and it is the turn of the shepherds to meet with an angel.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold,
I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Great joy is to take the place of great fear.
Zechariah, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and the shepherds— they all heard an angel of the Lord say, “Do not be afraid!”
Then the angel gave them God’s plan of goodness and great joy.
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord

Three titles: Savior, Christ, Lord.
In the usual thinking of God’s ancient people, those titles meant that God chose, anointed and sent the newborn to lead Israel in victory over the entire world.
If he were to lead Israel to triumph, then he would need an army.
The shepherds saw the army.
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Battle Cry and Victory Song of Heaven’s Army!
Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

That is the battle cry of Christ the Lord and Savior himself.
However, he did not come to take up sword and spear to lead Israel in war against Caesar Augustus.
The battle of Christ was to give highest glory to the Father, and to do so in such a way that men and women would come to peace with God.
The mortal enemy of God’s glory and mortal enemy of our being at peace with God— the mortal enemy is sin.
The battleground is my heart and your hearts, our thoughts, our choices, and our actions.
Are we ready for war?
The shepherds were afraid.
Zechariah was afraid.
St. Joseph was afraid.
Even the Blessed Virgin Mary was afraid.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid.”

I am afraid.
I could die defeated and conquered by my own sins.
Jesus never sinned, and still he died.
That, however, is precisely how he won the victory.
The Word of the Lord in the second reading tonight said that:
our great God and savior Jesus Christ…
gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good.

He was born to give himself in flesh and blood as a new and everlasting covenant so that sins may be forgiven.
Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

The night they heard the angelic battle cry of Christ, the shepherds had been keeping the night watch.
They were standing guard against wild beasts and robbers.
If we would receive joy and victory from the Savior, Christ the Lord, then we too must keep the watch, standing guard against sin.
When we receive word that Christ is to be found no longer in a manger, but in a moment of prayer, in a celebration of worship, in service and charity, in the practice of justice, in turning away from sin— wherever and whenever we know that Christ is to be found, then we must go to him as the shepherds did.
As the second reading tells us:
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age

The grace of God once appeared as a child of flesh and blood in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
He still comes in flesh and blood under the appearances of food and drink, inviting us to join him in a new and everlasting covenant, an exchange of promises.
We have come to find him here in his flesh and blood, and to promise to carry his victory into our lives.
Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

That God Be Glorified in All


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