Fr. Michael Silloway
Homily for the Solemnity of the Nativity
24 December 2012
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in them the fire your love. Send forth your spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.
There is a song that is sung leading up to these days of Christmas joy: It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Christmas has personally always been my favorite time of the year. There’s just something about it; families travel crazy distances to be with one another. The excitement of children over what will be under the tree. A time to splurge in caloric indulgence. We rejoice. We celebrate.
Even the cosmos echo the celebration. Think about it: how appropriate is it that right after the shortest day of the year (Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice), that Jesus Christ is born, the Light of the World. When the Earth is at its darkest, when it seems the darkness is conquering the day, BAM! In comes the true light, the light that the darkness cannot overcome.
Yet our experience of Christmas and its wonder down here in metro Atlanta doesn’t exactly line up with the words of that holiday song. Much of the Northeast and Midwest are being pounded with snow, cancelling flights and snarling holiday traffic; but besides a freak winter storm once every other decade, we don’t get the chance to go caroling out in the snow. In fact, in my 20 Christmases here in Georgia, it’s rained for at least half of them. Not good caroling weather.
I don’t know of many families who set aside marshmallows for roasting, and no one has ever come up to me and said “BE OF GOOD CHEER!”
So perhaps the lyrics of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” don’t apply so readily down here in a Southern Christmas.
But there are two Christmas songs in particular that no matter where you are, or where you’re from, will ring out with true Christmas spirit. They happen to by my two favorite Christmas songs, and when I think of the nativity scene that our Gospel from Luke portrays, these two songs hit the nail on the head, and will hopefully speak something to our hearts about this simple yet profound, this solemn and utterly joyful event.
Silent Night and O Holy Night
Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace.
It’s a lullaby. How perfect. And at the same time how strange. “Silent night?” Why silent? Have you ever thought about how strange it is that when the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the savior who, as God, bears divine and immense power, when he is born into the world, we sing a lullaby.
How strange, but yet how perfect.
God’s plan of salvation involved him sending his Son to be like us in all things but sin. Only one like us could undo the original disobedience of Adam and Eve. And only one like God had the power to do it. So here we have the baby savior, being cradled right up to the heart of his mother. He is God almighty and Lord of Hosts, the One whose hands made the universe, yet he humbled himself so much that his chubby little baby arms can’t even touch the snouts of the cattle that surround his manger.
The silence and stillness of the nativity urge us to slow down. Silence can be unnerving. The lack of distractions makes us listen to our inmost thoughts and feelings. We become open to really experience what’s happening around us.
No quick movements: you’ll wake the baby! No loud noises, no sudden jolts or sounds. Just watch the baby. Have you ever watched a baby sleep? It is holy. It does something to you to watch a baby sleep. The innocence, the purity, the hopefulness. Your heart goes out to them.
Imagine Mary rocking her newborn to sleep. Imagine the stillness and peacefullness. You moms out there know the feeling; that feeling of holding your baby. And it doesn’t go away…it never goes away. Even when your baby is 25 years old, something burns within as you hold your baby. There is a mystery of love so real that words fail to give it adequate description. There is a love there that cannot be put into words. Silent night. Holy Night.
And as the silence and serenity of this sacred moment washes over us, we hear the soothing melody of O Holy Night, a truly stirring Christmas song that plunges us into the depth of meaning and importance of this tender moment.
O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
The scene is set. It’s a nice night. The stars are out.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
From the fall onward to this moment, sin has reigned in the world. Without the light we stumble in the darkness, without the truth, we fall into all kinds of error. Nothing makes sense in a world without truth. But then came Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He gives meaning to our lives. Loving him and following him are the way to true happiness. The soul feels its worth because it is resting in the hands of the One who created it!
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
When you work extra long hours and your brain is fried and you see there’s only 10 minutes left before you can bolt out the door, you get a thrill of hope. This day will end!
When you’ve wandered long through the desert of life, lost, parched, famished, tired, beat and emotionally spent, and you finally see relief, your wearied world rejoices. I’m going to make it out alive!
When you’ve been trapped in sin for days, weeks, or years, and you hear the good news that Jesus Christ can and will set you free, then you rejoice.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O Night divine! O night when Christ was born. O night, o Holy Night! O night divine!
The music takes on a stark and serious character. There’s a sudden gravity as we’re told to drop down to our knees in adoration before this baby. He’s no normal baby. This is the Son of God. This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The wood of the cross he will mount for us is foreshadowed in the wood of his manger-crib. He is born in Bethlehem, the city foretold to be the place where the King would be born, the city whose name literally translates “House of Bread”. And in this divine bakery is a manger, an eating trough for the beasts, and in this eating trough is placed the one who will proclaim himself the Bread of Life and who will tell us in the Gospel that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink, and that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we will not have life within us.
The angels cry out that the savior has come! Emmanuel, God-with-us is born. A child has been born for us, a Son has been given. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will! This is where we get the Gloria that we sing on Sundays—we’re singing the song of the angels as they praise God for sending his Son. We JOIN THE ANGELS! I love being Catholic!
Do we see God’s mysterious plan of salvation unfolding right in front of us? Do you see what God is doing? Jesus himself is the bread that came down from heaven, the food that nourishes us, the daily bread we pray for each time we recite the Our Father. Blessed John Paul II, on his last Christmas before he died, said that “on this Holy Night, adoration of the Child Jesus becomes Eucharistic adoration.”
To look upon the baby Jesus is to see the lengths God will go to show us his love. From the very first moment of his existence, he is given for us. His life was not his own. He sacrificed for us. Every beat of his heart says “I am here for you.”
You’ve probably heard that every Mass is a little Easter. Well, it’s also a little Christmas. The Holy Spirit makes Jesus Christ truly present in the Eucharist. We sing him songs, we cry out with the angels, we sit in silence to speak to him heart to heart.
As individuals and as families, take this Christmas as an opportunity to slow down, to make room for silence and stillness. Let your heart take in the depths of Divine Love, of this Silent Night, of this Holy Night. As Jesus Christ came to be our forgiveness, offer the gift of forgiveness to someone who has wronged you. Perhaps make a New Years’ resolution to sit with Jesus in the Eucharist for a little time each week. Or recommit yourself to ridding your life of a sin or vice that has long plagued you.
Christmas reveals how simple a relationship with God is and how powerful simplicity is. He came as a baby, just like you and I did. Do not be afraid to hold and cherish this precious child. Do not be afraid to fall to your knees and to give him everything. It is through him and him alone that you will find this to be absolutely, without doubt, the most wonderful time of the year.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.