Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
If you are ever in a conversation and somebody says that, that means that they have no idea what to say next.
2014. If you’re my age you remember thinking as a kid how impossibly distant the year 2000 was and how we’d probably never get there anyway.
Sometimes when I’m giving a homily I wonder why anyone listens. It probably seems to people like all I ever do is preach. Because pretty much whenever we are together most, I have to preach. But I’m really a pretty quiet kind of person.
I’ve been thinking a lot this season of Christmas about how this only-begotten Word of God-made-flesh, Jesus, spent his first nine months in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary revealing the plan of God to us not saying a word. Here now he’s a baby and he doesn’t have a thing to say. Just baby-talk. Yet God still speaks to us through him —the invisible God made visible—even fully, somehow, in this helpless baby in a cave in a backwater town in the middle of nowhere – who fully reveals him.
The baby is a great image. Sure, helpless, totally dependent, even silent. But also perfectly beautiful, absolutely innocent, pure, completely the best of what “human” means before we begin to make bad choices and discover independence and ego.
As I said in many of my Christmas homilies – but forgot to include in others – the silence of this time in the infancy of Jesus – the silence in the midst of poverty and danger, the silence proceeding into Egypt as they flee as refugees to save the Child’s life – the silence is what paves the way and gives meaning to the greatest silence 33 years later when suddenly this baby gives over his last breath and delivers his spirit to the Father. It is in the silence of his freely-chosen death that Jesus speaks the loudest words of his life. The work of salvation begun in incarnation – conception at the Annunciation, birth at the Nativity—the salvation begun today in this Christmas season finds it’s fullest expression in the Silence hanging on the Cross.
The wood of the tree encountered by the first Adam is the same wood of the cradle and the Cross by which the Second Adam rights the wrongs of all time and place and brings us back to God in joy and peace.
We get the glad tidings of comfort and joy early in the story; it gathers our families together to share in God’s gifts, it reminds us of our humble origins and the humility that is required for us to unworthily accept the limitless riches that God has waiting for us. It calls us back to the simplicity and total dependence on God of the Son of God himself, who has entered into our history to show us the way.
Remember? Pope Francis said we can’t understand Christmas unless we have found some silence in advance? Well, once that silence becomes a part of us, it is the path toward which we are able to understand the crosses of life, the suffering and death, the meaning of new life and resurrection. Christmas happens only in the middle of the context of Annunciation/Incarnation and Death/Resurrection.
The day of the Lord isn’t some day in the future. It is now. It is the manifestation of Emmanuel (“God with us”) to the Magi who have traveled afar to greet the new king. We are there. It is the revelation of God to all people today. God is saying to us: “Pay attention! Something remarkable and unfathomable is happening to us today!” The plan of God unfolds before our eyes, we who are wordless, helpless and silent; we can hear.
God bless you.