In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, blessings, peace, and joy, on this Second Sunday after Christmas. We recall how last Sunday we took a detour from the resplendent cheerfulness of the season to commemorate the Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and Protomartyr for the faith. Last Wednesday, we offered Mass for the Feast of St. Thomas à Becket, the Twelfth Century Archbishop of Canterbury who was struck down in his cathedral by the King’s Assassins. This Sunday, though still within the Christmas Season, we are reminded in the Gospel reading how Our Lord’s mother and adoptive father had to flee as refugees to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s killers. Even when informed that the coast is clear, so to speak, Joseph hears that Archelaus, Herod’s son, reigns over Judea; and for a while, he is afraid to enter there. Joseph’s faith wins out eventually, and he takes his wife and young child to Nazareth, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” That Joseph’s faith in the end is greater than his fear no doubt casts the Gospel reading in a positive light; and yet we cannot ignore how often the Christmas Season is the occasion for commemorating in prayer the killing of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, the fear of Archelaus, the horrid martyrdom suffered by some of the saints going back to the beginning of the Church. The lesson is clear: Christmas Joy is very real, but also very much at odds with what normally prevails in our fallen world. The prince of this world, the devil and his many minions, the people whose hearts have been hardened by their sin and their disbelief, all of these agents of darkness and despair are pulling out all the stops to keep this Christmas Joy from being rooted, grown, and harvested in this fallen world they have claimed for themselves. If they had been able, these enemies of God would have snuffed out this Christmas Joy, while He was still in His mother’s womb. If they had been able, they would have kept him from ever leaving the manger, or returning from Egypt, or teaching in the Temple as a twelve-year-old boy. If they had been able, they would have figured out how to pervert Him, or how to estrange Him from His family, so that He could not “increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” If all else failed, they would have tried to tempt Him with the Spirit of the Times, so that He would cast aside the Holy Spirit of God for whatever is popular here and now. If they could not make Him into an ingrate, then they would try to make Him respectable. Either way, the Christmas Joy would have died and been replaced with something false, grossly commercialized, and complicit in our sin. The substitute replacing the Christmas Joy would have been as comforting to our sinful nature as it is unsatisfying to the longing of our souls. The enemies of God have failed to do this, for the Christmas Joy remains as it has been from the start a reality we can know intimately in our lives and in our brotherly love for one another. It is for this reason that the enemies of God remain so strident in opposition to the Christmas Season, and seek to undermine, sometimes with graphic violence, those who are trying to conform themselves to the Eternal Architect of Peace, Joy, and Goodwill towards Men.
Now, what does this mean, really, for us to conform ourselves, our souls, and our bodies, to the very Incarnation of the Christmas Joy? Think about when a child tries to conform himself to his father. I recall sitting upon the floor inside the bathroom and watching my father shave his face with a straight edge and cream. I had no facial hairs of my own, and my parents certainly were not about to let me play with a straight edge. Nevertheless, I would try to pantomime what he did, and once I even tried to lather up my cheeks with toothpaste just to see if I could look the same as he did in the mirror. There were also the times that he took me with him to fill up the family car with gasoline. Jimmy Carter was President at the time, and there was a gas shortage that necessitated long lines at the station. In order to avoid the lines, I decided to help my dad by emulating as best I could what I had seen him do. I put a water hose into the tank, and then turned on the faucet. I was barely able to walk, but I was making an outsized mess of things all the same. Nevertheless, in trying at least to emulate my father, I was taking the first few steps in conforming my life to his example. The steps we can take in trying to emulate the example of Christ Jesus are even more feeble in comparison. The Prophet Isaiah proclaims that God Himself has anointed him “to preach good tidings unto the meek…to bind up the brokenhearted…[and] to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” He is comforting all that mourn “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” My Brethren, we are doing well if we are just kind to one another at coffee hour. How feeble are efforts seem in comparison, and yet the Miracle of Christmas is that God does so much with so very little. If we give God and our neighbors just a little something of our hearts, just a smidgen of goodness that is unrestrained by self-interest, just a moment of charity that is neither self-righteous nor condescending, just one kind gesture or word that is not also duplicitous, then God in His fashion will make of what we gave so much more for ourselves and for our neighbors than we had imagined could be done. We are infants when comparing the good tidings we bring to the world to what the Prophet Isaiah did, and he is an infant in comparison to what Christ Jesus did. Nevertheless, all that we endeavor to do in emulation of Our Lord is made holy in Him, just as all that the Prophet Isaiah did is made holy in Him. In Christ Jesus, our efforts are not too small, enfeebled, or inadequate to the need, so long as we are acting out of love for God and for our fellow man. Maintain in all things the Summary of the Law, and God will do all else that is needful, notwithstanding the opposition of all those literally hell bent on driving out every vestige of the Christmas Joy.
In considering all that God does in perfecting what little we give unto Him, it is most fitting that the Church chose the Winter Solstice as the date to commemorate the Nativity of the Incarnate God. St. Augustine explains that choice: “For this is the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. The Incarnation of God who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet also the one whence the light begins to increase.” In celebrating Christmas on the Winter Solstice, we view God literally planting the seed of our salvation in what would seem to be the least fertile soil. The daylight is inadequate; the weather inhospitable; the temperature much too cold and foreboding; and yet from so little that is conducive to life comes the wellspring of life. What else but God’s grace may account for this? And so what else but God’s grace may account for so much beautiful life growing out from what little we have planted? With so many trying to wipe out our Christmas Joy, we realize that we have no recourse but to trust in God. With our efforts in emulating Christ Jesus so small and inadequate, we realize that we have no recourse but to trust in God. With our salvation seeded in a time and a place that is so dark and forbidding, we realize that we have no recourse but to trust in God. Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Men, in the world at large, and in our very own hearts: This happens when we finally relinquish everything else but our trust in God. Christmas is the season we do this above all: To trust in Him as did His infant Son when born in a manger.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.