Today our Advent preparation comes to an abrupt end. There is not much to the fourth week this year with Christmas Eve on Monday and Christmas Day on Tuesday. God has come down from his heaven and joined the human family. Jesus is the revelation of the Father. The whole economy of images has changed. Something of the divine is now shown to us by means of a human face. Even many of those Protestant churches that reject images as idolatry become Catholic for the season of Christmas. They put up Nativity Scenes with Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus in the manger. Our Catholic churches contain both the crèche and the crucifix. These artifacts signify the presence and intervention of our Lord in salvation history. The beginning and the end of Christ’s life is placed before us. No matter how the corpus is designed, we all recognize Jesus. Similarly, no matter whether he has blue, green or brown eyes— no matter what color his hair or the complexion of his skin, the baby doll in the manger is identified by all as Jesus. If you doubt me, ask even the smallest child in this church who the child is and I guarantee you, he or she will say Jesus. God the Word, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, has written himself upon our human flesh. Almighty God allows himself to become that, which is most vulnerable and weak, a human baby. The human can now signify or communicate the divine. Every child is a reflection of the Christ-child.
Why? The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen explained it in terms of the mysterious love of God. We did not deserve a Savior like Christ. There was nothing we could do to compel or merit his intervention. Archbishop Sheen drew a parallel with us and our pets. Is there any one of us who loves his dog enough to be willing to become a dog to save it? No, probably not, and yet the distance that God’s Son had to bridge in becoming a man was larger by far. There was an infinite distance between the Creator and his creation. It is more than the gulf between us and ants. And yet, our Lord became a human being. He did so to give us hope— to repair the breech between heaven and earth caused by sin— to bring us mercy and healing. He takes upon himself a human nature and in doing so raises its value. God became a man so that by grace we can share in something of his divinity. We are made sons and daughters to God, brothers and sisters to Christ, inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven.
We celebrate the fact that divine joy has entered our vale of tears. Have you ever noticed that while Christmas has many very joyful and happy hymns, both sacred and secular, that it also has some of the saddest songs and themes. We are often brought to tears at Christmas. We remember holidays of the past and family and friends who are no longer with us. We also recognize that the world itself can be a harsh place and we try desperately to preserve the innocence and happiness of children. The happy-sad conflict is even seen with our Lord. Once again, we look at the crèche and then to the cross. Jesus is born to die. This will be the price for his fidelity to the Father, the ransom to redeem a people.
Over the years in my ministry, I have seen firsthand the need to bring some joy and peace to the hurting and the poor. We bring food baskets to families and maybe toys and clothes to children. I think God will show special attention and mercy toward those who have given children toys at Christmas. It is a precious act to give joy to a child. I recall working in the city where volunteers ultimately gave a dinner and new toys to over five hundred children and their families. I remember one father, alternately held up by his little boys, as they walked him to the school hall for the food and toys. The father had been drinking and so we filled him with coffee. These kids had little. They were the poorest in the city. There were two other boys who I recognized in line, waiting to see Santa. These guys had broken my rectory window with a rock and then ran faster than I could chase them. When they saw me they started to cry. They felt for sure I would kick them out. One of them pleaded, “Please Mister, we did not know you would do this for us, nobody ever did anything for us before!” They were not bad boys, just angry. Poverty can do that to a person, make you angry and even cause you to despair.
I heard a minister speak many years ago about his boyhood in as way that made a permanent impression upon me. He had been raised by his grandmother. She was the only family he had in the whole world. One day she fell asleep and did not wake up. Fearful that the authorities would send him away to a foster home, he grabbed as many clothes as he could, his grandmother’s tattered old Bible, and took off. Eventually he settled under a nearby bridge where, at least, he could stay dry. He washed his clothes in the creek, got occasional supplies and food from the local churches and shelters, and tried to make the best of things. His grandmother had always urged him to be a good boy and so he continued to go to public school. Only 11 or 12 years old, he tried to hide the fact that he was on his own. He borrowed school supplies from other kids. Now, if this were a movie, some people would have seen his plight and a nice family would have adopted him as their own. But, this was not a movie and not all stories are happy ones. People had their suspicions about him but no one cared enough about a young boy to bother to find out more. He grew up under that bridge. Sometimes he would cry himself to sleep at night. It was not just because he did not have any of the things that other children had. No, he confessed the worse thing was not having anybody to tell him, “I love you.” He picked up his grandmother’s Bible and read the Gospels. That is why he survived and did not despair. He came to know Jesus and realized that there was one person who loved him and who would never abandon him. Years later, this boy would become a man and a minister of the Gospel. He went to college and witnessed to others about his life. When we feel sorry for ourselves, think about this little boy. He had nothing, except for Jesus— and yet, that gave him hope and he counted Jesus as the great treasure of his life. Jesus knew what he had to endure. Our Lord even said that the Son of Man had nowhere to rest his head.
Our Lord was placed into a manger, a feedbox for animals. Our altar is also a manger, but it is a place not for the food of animals but of men. Jesus is the bread of life. He asks us to come up to the manger of the altar and to receive our rations from the promised shore, the food of eternal life. Jesus also wants to make a manger of our hearts. He seeks a home in our souls. He came down from his heaven so that he might abide with us always.