A Homily for Christmas
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born of the Virgin in Bethlehem. Amen.
We’ll sing Silent Night in a few minutes. It’s a beautiful song, but I’m not sure it’s the most historically accurate. Certainly the shepherds quaked at the sight of the heavenly hosts singing “Alleluia.” But if you’ve ever been present for a birth, you know that they are not silent or calm affairs. For that matter, they’re not the squeaky-clean events of Christmas cards and paintings. Where is the Christmas card with the Blessed Virgin Mary exhausted and sweating while Saint Joseph wipes away the vernix? Technology has come far enough that I should be able to buy a nativity set with a little speaker playing the newborn Christ’s hungry screams.
Tonight we celebrate our Lord’s birth, the miracle of his Incarnation – that he became truly and fully human. Fully God, certainly, but no less human for his divinity. Christ is not God in a human costume but God-made-human. The Son of God, begotten before all time, light from light, true God from true God, was born the same as any of us, was an infant the same as any of us, cried the same way we all cried, soiled himself the same we all did, discovered his hands and learned to grab the same way we all discovered our hands and learned to grab, needed to be burped and spat up the same as us.
Consider the absolute vulnerability of it – the one who walked on water could not walk. The one who calmed the storm with the words, “Peace. Be still,” could not speak. The one who fed the thousands could not feed himself. But the staggering normality of God’s humanity did not end at Bethlehem.
Keep reading just past the nativity story in Luke 2, and you find that Jesus grew, and at twelve, he went with his family to Jerusalem – where he was lost in the crowd for three days; his holy mother greeted him with words familiar to many of us: “Your dad and I have been worried sick.”
In adulthood, he fasted for forty days in the wilderness – and felt the pangs of hunger and the weight of temptation. In his ministry, he encountered the sick, the hungry, the disabled, the possessed. He wept with those who wept.
Born and raised among a people subjected to violent Roman rule, Jesus knew the life of the poor and the oppressed. Christ witnessed first-hand brutality leveled in the name of law and order. He walked among the outcast and those despised by society.
Tonight we celebrate Christ’s miraculous birth. But in April, we will mark his death. Yes, this newborn child will feel the sting of death itself. He will be tortured and killed by the state. He will be laid in a tomb. The one who was born just like the rest of us will die. Just like the rest of us.
But he will conquer the grave. The One Born of a Virgin is also the Firstborn from Among the Dead. Christ has taken on our humanity and born the cost of our sin, even to the point of death, in order to save humanity from sin and death!
This is what it means for Christ to save us – that he became human so that we could become like God. The fourth century theologian Gregory of Nazianzus put it this way: “That which [Christ] has not become He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.” We are saved because Christ became one of us.
For the oppressed and the downtrodden, for those who mourn and weep, for those who know hunger and poverty, for those who know sickness and disease… behold your King! He has sought you out to lead you into life everlasting, to set you free, to comfort you, to feed you, to make you hole. You who will taste the sting of death, behold the one who will lead you out of the grave into eternal life!
Here he is, in our midst, as one of us to save all of us.