First Sunday after Christmas 2020

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Whenever we read a book about the past, or visit the remains of an ancient building, or recount over eggnog and ham the stories of our own more immediate ancestors, we are reminded of a pithy adage: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Human nature indeed is natural, which means that it is what it is. Our nature is embedded, like a fixture that remains in a home no matter how the floors and the walls may be remodeled from time to time. We may not like the look of this fixture. We may try to chip away at it. We may even sandblast it. But we do not have what it takes to get rid of it, and so it remains there, year after year, century after century, our basic human nature turning up throughout history like a bad penny.

This is why whenever we look at the past we see the same sins repeated in one guise or another. People are prideful, lustful, covetous, gluttonous. They are preoccupied with what in retrospect turns out to be beside the point. They do not have the time for serious minded study or honest self-reflection, but all the time in the world for gossip. They get their knickers in a bunch over a perceived slight, but rationalize or ignore altogether a real injustice played out right in front of them. As a result of his sins, the man of history invariably suffers his comeuppance. Henry VIII turns into a fat ogre wallowing in pain from his joust misadventure even into his own afterlife. Napoleon is mad and riddled with cancer while exiled on an island. Hitler takes his life deep inside his bunker before the Russians can capture him. The comeuppance stories usually combine elements of fact with fiction, but whatever the historical veracity they are always dramatic. They are told in books, in song, in art, and in plays. Regardless of the media the point is always the same: Go down a dark path, and you will end up in a dark place. Wallow in the mud, and at some point you will not be distinguished from the pigs. Sell your soul, and get back nothing but despair.

The fact that we recount the same lessons over and over does not make them any less important. They do not sting any less because they are old. The imperative to repent from our sinful ways, and to embrace the God who gave us His Son for our redemption, is no less critical today because it has been repeated from pulpits and in confessionals over the last two thousand years. On the contrary, whenever God speaks to us, and no matter how many times, He speaks to us as if for the first time. Every lesson from God is our first lesson from God. Every moment with God is like the first time a baby looks up into the eyes of his loving father. Our connection with God is immediate, absolute, transformative, beyond comprehension, and yet at the same time so intimate and personal. This is what Saint Paul means when he writes in his Epistle to the Galatians that with the Spirit of His Son in our hearts we shall cry out to God like a child first learning to speak. We shall call Him, “Abba, Father.” And like the baby who cries out “Abba, Father,” we are not only acknowledging our own helplessness without Him, we are asking Him to feed us, to care for us, to hold us up when we try to walk, and to comfort us when we fall.  

Consider the Nativity scenes now decorating churches and homes around the world. The first Nativity scene has been attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223. He had to face in his time the same indifference to the true meaning of Christmas that we so often see in our own time: Gross materialism in place of charity, drunken revelry in place of sober fellowship, and old pagan superstitions distorting what the Scriptures and the Church Fathers have taught us about the Incarnation. As a teaching tool, he created a live action version of the Nativity with humans and animals playing out all the Biblical roles. Pope Honorius III gave his official blessing to the exhibit, and Saint Bonaventure later recounted the event in his seminal book, “Life of Saint Francis of Assisi.” The lesson told by the Nativity scene is clear enough. In Christ Jesus, God is with us. He shares in all of our helplessness, our weakness, our need for a stronger parent to take care of us. He is with us when there is no room for us in the inn. He is with us when the only protection we have from the elements is a swaddling cloth. It does not matter how low our lives may get. If we are homeless, if we are refugees, if we are strangers, God has been there too. The true miracle of the Incarnation is that there is no despair we can experience that God has not also experienced. We simply are never alone in our sadness, our confusion, our wretchedness, unless we choose to be alone. If only we look up, and say “Abba, Father,” we shall see Him there beside us ready to take us back into His arms.

So when we see a Nativity scene, we should realize that the Christ child in between Mary and Joseph is not just an artistic representation of the Incarnation. The Christ child is also a reminder of who we are when we are close to God. When we are fully alive in Christ Jesus, we are the infants in the manger. Like a newborn babe, we do not understand much at all. We look through a glass darkly. But we know deeply in our souls that we are loved and protected. Moreover, we sense that there is more to come. We shall grow. We shall start to crawl. At some point, take our first precarious steps. God will be there by our side holding our hand, or when necessary carrying us over patches we cannot traverse ourselves. The lessons He will teach us have been taught many times in the past, but for us they will be as new as when an infant first hears his parent speak to him. His lessons will move us, embolden us, transform our lives, and we get the first inkling of this as we behold the Christ child in a manger.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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