December 24, 2022 – The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
Mass during the Night
Click here for the readings (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122522-night.cfm)
Have you been in love? I am sure that we have all been in love. The first time I realized that I was in love, it made me restless until I could have a glimpse of her. I realized that my attitude towards her had changed. I suddenly became more caring and thoughtful towards her. Though that puppy love did not last as it was based on emotional and physical attraction only, but that gave me a bit of understanding how love can change a person’s behavior.
With that, how would we define love? What love is, then? According to my Tita, Miss Meriam-Webster, she gave 9 different definitions of love. Yet, I am not personally satisfied with her definitions since most are descriptions of love. Well, she said that love is a strong affection towards another, or attraction based on sexual desire, or based on admiration, or devotion, or an assurance of affection or a concern for another, etc.
Moreover, our Christian understanding of Love is much deeper than that. It is beyond romantic love, beyond physical attraction or emotional attachment. Love is more concrete than those definitions.
And so, I would like to change the question, rather than asking, “What is love?,” we change it to, “Who is love?” By changing the question to who, this means that love is a person who concretely shows to the beloved the love. Yes, love is a person, God’s self-revelation is love and made visible through Jesus. What the whole church celebrates today is the story of love being revealed to us, in our human history. It is love who creates, liberates, gives life and gives hope for today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord, as the Psalm proclaims to us.
And so, allow me now to go a bit deeper into the Sacred Scriptures revealed to us tonight and allow the Lord to call and to empower us through this love personified.
Friends, there was darkness, a terrifying one that haunts and overwhelms many. This is what Prophet Isaiah told us in the first reading where people walked in darkness and lived in the land of gloom. These are images of suffering, of pain, trauma, sorrow and grief, guilt and shame, sin and evil. Until now, this darkness remains in us. The trauma children experience from irresponsible parents and dysfunctional families, the lingering hatred and anger in our hearts, the desire to manipulate and abuse others, the indifference of many towards those who are suffering, the greed for power, wealth and comfort by the rich and privilege, the seemingly endless calamities that caused millions of deaths and the overwhelming anxiety and fear to us including this pandemic that is still around us, the cruelty of war and terrorism in some parts of the world, the corruption and culture of violence in our society – these are all images of darkness!
Isaiah tells us again, whatever that is burdening us or anything that is enslaving us, he will smash, not with violence, but with forgiveness, with love. Whatever hatred and anger, indifference, desire for revenge and war, he will burn and stop them, because he brings peace and reconciliation. This is love in person!
Yet, as Isaiah also told us, that those who walked in darkness have seen a great light and those who lived in the land of gloom a light has shone. Despite the darkness that envelopes us, as this night reminds us now, there is hope! For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests! However, his power is not overpowering, not imposing. Because he is rather gentle, this child is named Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. And this is love in person!
Now, the Gospel of Luke recounts to us tonight how this love in person was born and in contrast to our Christmas celebrations these days, his birth was almost ignored. Luke tells us that Mary wrapped the baby Jesus, the love in person, in a “swaddling clothes and was laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” In that first Christmas, there was no Christmas tree, no colorful Christmas lights or Christmas balls and lanterns. There was no happy and festive Christmas gathering on the day of birth of Jesus. Yet, this is love in person!
In fact, the baby boy was laid in a manger, a long open box for horses or cattle to eat from. There was no crib at all. The love in person was born poor. And in the midst of these, there was so much indifference around. Luke told us that there was no room for them in the inn and no one offered the couple to have at least a decent place to stay. People must have seen that Mary was about to give birth. But many did not care! Many did not show attention to a mother who was about to give birth. Many did not dare to help. Can we not feel the indifference here? Can we not feel the cold hearts of people here? Can we not recognize the unwelcoming hearts of many?
Many have gathered at that time because people were going home for the census decreed by the emperor of Rome. This means that there were plenty of people and as relatives would gather, there were parties around, yet, they remained unmoved and unconcerned to Joseph and Mary. The relatives of Joseph could at least help them, yet, there was no one except the animals as depicted in our Christmas Manger.
Again, the very situation of the birth of Jesus was filled with darkness, with unwelcoming and apathetic hearts. However, the Lord cannot be stopped. His love cannot be prevented. This is why even in the midst of these, Mary give birth to Jesus, the light of the world, the Prince of Peace, the love in person. This is God’s declaration to us, that his love is bigger than anything else. God’s love is more powerful than evil. God’s presence is warmer than our indifference. And this is love in person!
The shepherds were considered as outcasts because many of them at that time were the younger sons who cannot inherit any land from their fathers. They were landless and poor. They were considered unclean because of their work. They smelled bad because of the dirt, manure and blood they got from the sheep. The rest of the community would never welcome them in their households that is why they would always sleep there in the field with the sheep.
Yet, it was to them that the angel announced the birth of Jesus. They were the very first ones to receive the good news of great joy for all the people. This is what Paul in his letter to Titus declared to us as well, that the grace of God has appeared, saving all. However, the first ones to receive the good news were the least and the unwanted in the community. This is God’s statement again that God is for the abandoned and for the forgotten, whose life have been darkened by those who were indifferent.
What does this tell us? What is Jesus, the love in person, inviting us now? You will all be going home after this mass, gather as family and those who are close to you, celebrate His birth with joy and festivities, yet, never forget how the Lord was born tonight amidst all the darkness and indifference around us. There are at least three invitations that I would like you to bring tonight.
First, let the Love in Person be reborn tonight and change us. Jesus is reborn in us when we allow our dark guilt and sin to be accepted, confronted and forgiven; when we allow our painful and traumatic experiences become ways for us to discover hope and freedom; when we recognize that we need the Lord and his gift of salvation; when we allow the Lord to change our way of living for ourselves into living for others.
Second, make a room. Let us have the courage to confront our cold and indifferent heart that cancels and excludes those who are different from us. We make a room for others when we stop being indifferent and begin to care and to show genuine concern without any hidden agenda; and when we are able to recognize that we are all brothers and sisters in need of love and mercy.
Third, let our fear be transformed into joy. Remember this, Christmas happens every day because God comes to visit us every day. Thus, let his peace dispel our fear now. Let his love assure us daily and make us confident so that we may not anymore fear what our future will be, so that we may not be afraid for not having enough but be more contented today, so that we may not anymore fear to take the risk of loving and giving ourselves for others. May we let Jesus, the love in person fill us with joy. Ok lang? Sana all.