Posted by: Fr Chris | December 24, 2018

Christmas 2018

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The Byzantine Catholic Christmas greeting Christ is born! Glorify Him! was already  common in the mid-300s. St Gregory Nazianzen starts his famous Christmas sermon with those words, and Eastern Christians have been saying this during the twelve days of Christmas for over 1700 years.

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In the Office of the Royal Hours from this morning, we read of the prophecies concerning the conception of Christ in a virgin’s womb, of the ox and the donkey knowing their Master’s crib, of the shepherds coming to the stable, of the wise men from the east coming to worship, and of Herod’s jealousy. All of the gospel texts around the nativity of Jesus which we have been fasting for, praying for, preparing for, waiting for during these forty days are rich with imagery and you’d need a three hour presentation just to unpack part of it.

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Tonight focus on Bethlehem and the shepherds. Bethlehem is the ancestral home of Joseph’s family, the house of David the king. David was a shepherd in the fields, the least of Jesse’s sons, yet the only one whom God wanted to rule Israel. Jesus is legally the son of Joseph, fulfilling God’s promise that the messiah would come from David’s descendants.     Bethlehem in Hebrew means house of bread, but in Aramaic it means house of meat. Christ the Bread of Angels is born there, Christ our true Food in the Holy Eucharist is laid  into the feeding trough of the animals. The ox and the donkey know him. Mary and Joseph know him. Nobody else in the town has any idea who He is.

When the angels appear to the shepherds, they are appearing to the men and boys watching over the flocks which were being raised for the temple. The wool from the adult sheep was used to make the linen vestments of the priests. The unblemished lambs who were physically perfect were set aside to become the paschal sacrifices, the  Passover lambs. Jesus is revealed to these shepherds – He is perfect God, perfect Man. He is the High Priest of priests, the source of my priesthood and that of every Catholic priest, the High Priest Who was truly worshipped in the old Temple. He is the true Lamb of God – perfect, sinless, and destined to die so as to save all humanity from the power of sin.

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Some of the shepherds that night may well have been from the Levites, the priests, themselves. Thus it is a powerful sign when they search out the newborn baby boy, wrapped in traditional white swaddling clothes, Who has been put into the straw of a manger. They come to find Him, and then to worship Him. He Who is in the feeding trough will be the Bread of Life for the entire world; He Who is wrapped in pure white swaddling clothes is not only all-pure Himself, but He is also destined to be wrapped in a pure white burial shroud after dying on the cross for our sins.

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Tonight we partake of His very flesh and blood, and His entire Personhood, in Holy Communion. The new-born King of the Jews, the new High Priest, the Lamb of God, the Eternal Word of God, the Bread of Angels and Bread of Life – all these symbols and titles are wrapped up in these few verses of the Gospels about this baby boy resting in straw.

Isaiah cries out to us tonight: the animals knew Who this Child was, but do you truly know Him? Christmas in western cultures is so far divorced from its origins in the birth of Jesus, with more emphasis on spending money to as to save the retail industry than in imitating Christ and worshipping Him. Do I live as if I know Him?

Do I speak as if I know Him?

Do I watch movies and television shows as if I know Him?

Do I pray as if I know Him?

Do I love others as if I know Him?

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Through the gift of sacred time we are present at the cave as Mary gives birth and Joseph helps, and we are there as the Infant King is wrapped in white and put into the straw of the crib, the manger, the feeding trough of the animals. We are there for all these events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and we will be reminded of these in the Scripture readings this week. The great challenge is to live as if I know Him.

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Those here tonight who are Catholics properly prepared are invited to the table of the Lord to receive Him in the Most Holy Eucharist – what though shall we do tomorrow? And the next day? And so on? We must live as Christ wants us to live, not as the fallen world wants us to live.
That takes courage, and self-emptying love. It takes divine grace. Jesus offers us a share in His courage, His self-emptying love to imitate, and His grace to build us up with. Let us leave here tonight transformed by Him, ready to proclaim Him, and above all, ready to live as He did.  Christ is born!

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