A Homily for the Nativity of our Lord
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born this night, the Prince of Peace, laying in a manger. Amen.
On the 6th of May 2019, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, seventh in line to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was born to Prince Harry and Megan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in the exclusive Portland Hospital – birthplace of royalty and celebrity. His birth was heralded by a media spectacle as well as illuminations of the London Eye Ferris wheel, Toronto’s CN Tower, and Niagra Falls, and for £125 (just over $160), shoppers could buy the officially-sanctioned souvenir teddy bear. He was baptized in the chapel of Windsor Castle by the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. This pomp and circumstance in spite of the fact that his parents have opted to raise him a “private” citizen, foregoing the right to pass on one of his father’s hereditary titles.
What else would we expect for the son of a prince? This is precisely the sort of extraordinary attention we reserve for those lofty few, those who will reside in palaces or mansions.
The story of Jesus’ birth is likewise extraordinary, but in a completely different way. Our Lord was born not in some elite hospital nor a palace but in the ancient equivalent of a garage because the house was full.
His parents were not special, neither royalty nor celebrities, not even religious leaders. His father was a craftsman engaged to a young woman. They were from a small town that was often the butt of the joke – one of Christ’s own disciples would snidely ask, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” These blessed parents were far from home because the emperor in Rome decided to flex his political muscle over the farthest reaches of his realm.
The angels herald Jesus’ birth only to a few shepherds out in the fields, and a few foreign astronomers notice a strange star, but that’s about it. Save for his parents, the shepherds, and those magi (who don’t even show up for a few years – but more about that in two weeks), everything about this night seems so extremely ordinary.
This is the story of the Incarnation, the story of God the Son, the Divine Word, the Eternally-Begotten One through whom all things were made, becoming a human, one of us. It’s a night that changed the world, and yet it was so entirely plain.
There’s something unsettling about a God who comes to us in such humble form – born not to a king or emperor but to a craftsman and his fiancée in a far-flung province of an oppressive empire, a God who, like all newborns, cried and soiled himself and woke his holy parents up in the middle of the night. The one who gave us his Body and Precious Blood was fed of his own mother’s body, was entirely dependent on the Blessed Virgin Mary for his being.
We dress this night up with illuminations, festive greenery, and sacred song, but at its core, its is holy because it is common.
The Jesuit priest and gang intervention advocate Father Greg Boyle once remarked,
I think we’re afraid of the incarnation. And part of it, the fear that drives us is that we have to have our sacred in a certain way. It has to be gold-plated, and cost… millions [with a] cast of thousands….
But this is what tonight is all about: God enters the world, shunning the pomp and circumstance of human royalty, foregoing the gold-plating in favor of fragile human flesh. Living among us, he encounters pain and disease, he weeps at the graveside of a dear friend, knows the true anguish of hunger and thirst, and feels the sting of death. Our Savior is one who has gone through the same trials and tribulations as us.
On this night of nights, we remember and give thanks that our Lord blessed us with his presence not by appearing as some sort of angelic being devoid of flesh and bone nor by dwelling in some palace far removed from the pain of common, everyday life but that he lived among us, greeted by working-class shepherds.
He lived under earthly kings. He talked to, healed, touched, and even ate with the religious elite, the enslaved, the sex worker, the tax collector, the occupying soldier, the divorcee, the pure and unclean alike, washing away human distinctions between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, calling all of people to new and everlasting life.
And it is this ordinary-looking child who shall be called Wonderful Counselor, who shall wield all authority on heaven and earth, who will reign with righteousness and justice.
It is this newborn Child who will break the oppressive yoke of sin and death, who will feed the hungry and send the rich away empty, who will lift up the lowly and topple tyrants from their thrones. It is this crying infant who will taste death but, in dying, destroy the deathly powers of this world.
By taking on humanity, ordinary, fleshy, common humanity, Christ will pull us ordinary, fleshy humans out of the grave and dress us in ever-living divinity.
And on this holy night, my dear friends, as we remember the God who came as an infant, we celebrate also that he left us this Blessed Sacrament, his Body and Blood, as a gift of grace. But even this we have tried to dress up with silver and gold. Again, Father Greg reminds us:
And so we’ve wrestled the cup out of Jesus’s hand, and we’ve replaced it with a chalice, because who doesn’t know that a chalice is more sacred than a cup….Jesus doesn’t lose any sleep that we will forget that the Eucharist is sacred. He is anxious that we might forget that it’s ordinary, that it’s a meal shared among friends, and that’s the incarnation.
Our Lord’s presence continues in our midst through the mystery of his Body and Blood made present in ordinary bread and wine. Here, beloved, the miracle of our Lord’s birth continues: a God who came to us as a normal kid comes to us again as an ordinary meal. Here he is, for us, to forgive and bring us into newness of life, to make us the holy Body of Christ.