theunfamiliarname

Homily for Christmas Day 2009

In Uncategorized on December 25, 2009 at 12:42 am

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

The words of English poet U.A. Fanthorpe.  Her title, BC:AD.

There is that sense of the epic, the colossal,
about those opening words of John’s Gospel.
And rightly so.
He sums up in short order the whole of universal history,
and  announces that something new has taken place.
There is absolute continuity with the Word who was in the beginning,
that Word which was God,
but there is also a line drawn under this moment in human history
when and because the Word became flesh and lived among us.

And why would God do such a thing?
Why such complexity, such vulnerability, such recklessness?
John gives us the response:
To all who received him, who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
born … of God.
In short it is that simple:
God has become fully and profoundly one with us,
so that we might become one with God.

Earth and heaven, time and eternity,
met in a moment and forevermore, the Incarnation.

We know the story well,
how Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem
because the Romans are having a census,
wanting to tax that bit more effectively,
Caesar Augustus is calling all the Roman world to be numbered.
In short, Rome is thinking big.

While God, at that pivotal point in history,
for all its epic quality,
is thinking small.

As small and as particular as we can cope with –
a new, tiny life,
soft and fragile and beautiful and open to the pain and perfume of the world.
Those tiny fingers that instinctively grasp a mothers’,
those beautiful feet “of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news, who announces salvation.”

Good news uttered in a weak newborn cry.

A three year old girl lies down on her tummy,
peering into the home nativity scene
she says with some delight: “God’s my size!”

There is something there we need to recapture.
This is God not encountered in the abstract,
the big thoughts and words,
but in the undeniable reality of a needing, loving, demanding child.

US Catholic Social Activist Dorothy Day wrote,
“It is not love in the abstract that counts.
Men have loved a cause as they have loved a woman.
They have loved the brotherhood, the workers, the poor, the oppressed
– but they have not loved [humanity]; they have not loved the least of these. They have not loved “personally.”   It is hard to love.”

It is easy and quite tempting to be thinking big.
When perhaps the message of the Christchild
is that it’s the thinking small that counts.
Small thoughts, real thoughts, lead to real actions, real relationships.

We can all pray for world peace, an end to global warming,
the completeness of the Kingdom of God,
but the epic hope will come to nothing
if our actions and our words and our loving
does not make it real, make it tangible, make it alive.
If we do not notice
the smallness, the uniqueness,
the beauty of the God who comes so near to us
that our very being is embraced.

Think small, think specific:
thinking lovingly and intentionally about how we relate on a human level
and where that might take on a larger life of its own,
perhaps that is the greatest gift
we might share with one another this Christmas.

It is perhaps not so very hard to love a small child,
but we are confronted – perhaps most explicitly at Epiphany
when the wise men brings their gifts of great symbol –
that this baby does not stay a child.
God does not come among us to be wrapped up in cotton wool, or in tinsel:
the risk of being born
is the risk of embracing suffering, loneliness, the wounded,
and ultimately death.

God gives completely,
and we are invited to receive God completely.
To be so changed that be can look with God’s eyes upon this new day,
to choose to reach out in and to need.

We are invited to ourselves be born anew this Christmas,
to become more like the God who comes to us in Jesus.
More generous, more vulnerable, more completely giving of ourselves,
but above all, more loving, not of life’s abstractions,
but of those that God has given us to love.
That small group of the world’s people we encounter,
and the multitudes we affect in our small everyday decisions.

This holy day, and the days ahead, let us discover the revelation
that “God is my size”.
That allows the Incarnation to speak fully into our small reality.

This Christmas think small.
Small is beautiful.

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