December 25, 2018

Christmas homily notes 2018 – Night Mass

· The decree of Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered is not recorded in any other place than the Gospel of Luke. Historians point out that it does not make sense for a number of reason. Taxation was levied where people worked, not at their ancestral place, and no Roman emperor ordered a census of all the Empire at once.

· Luke as an historian (in the modern sense) fails although he seemed to have thought highly of himself in that regard. But if we look for meaning, rather than for historical precision, Luke is a master writer. The background: the Empire. Rhetorical effect of “the whole world” expression. (“The shadows of death”… in Zacharias’ understanding of the Empire). The other Emperor is Jesus, the Christ, that is, the anointed, a title of the Emperor. One CHRIST against another CHRIST.

· The Emperor sits on a throne, Jesus lays on the hay in a manger. One CHRIST over against another CHRIST. The Emperor is blessed by the gods of the Empire, Jesus has a very intimate relationship (to say the least!) to the one God of all. But it is not just a matter of many vs. one, it is a matter of the nature of the divinity.

· Does it make sense, today, to talk about God? What is this business of religion all about? We all know that people have hated each other and fought and killed each other because of their different religions, their different notions of God. Secularization seems to be the destiny of American society, following Europe, despite other trends in other parts of the world. There are good philosophical reasons for leaving religion aside, just as there are for reformulating the notion of God. The debate is not over at all.

· The Gospel of Luke offers a specific way of thinking about this problem, even today. God can be conceived as the ultimate power of the universe which justifies the structure of power in the universe, the status quo, Empire included. We all know how religion has served and serves the purpose of keeping people in line. But the angels whisper something else. Do you hear them? They are saying: you got it all wrong. You think you know who God is. You think God is an Emperor, and then you either toss God away as an antiquated and even dangerous idea, or you accept this idea and obey to a series of religiously-based rules. But you got it all wrong, sing the angels. God does not care about power and domination. God works at the margins of society, in the dimly-lit corners where there is no power to trade, in order to upset and transform the structures of power. After all, this baby did his best not to let things in the same state as he found them, to offer an alternative to power as domination.

· God’s light blazes forth, all the sudden, to marginal people like the shepherds. And the angels tell them that they will see the power of God not in the Emperor’s palace but in a baby in a manger, the most powerless of creatures.

· It is a very emotional thing for me to carry the “bambino” on Christmas night. It is not even a good statue, and is just a statue. But what if it is a physical, visible, powerful reminder of the fact that I carry God to you, to others, all the time.

· I am convinced that each time that I walk toward another with an open heart, armed only with the unarmed and vulnerable flesh that I am… just as I am… with all my fatigues and my wounds, with all the quirky as well as the pleasant aspects of my personality… without shielding from people and without attempting to control them… then I carry God in my hands, then the angels sing again of joy and the skies open up.

· You all have in your hands, tonight, the Christ child. Not the Emperor of the universe, but the living luminous energy of a God who chooses to shine in the least expected of places. In the babies born and living in extreme circumstances. In the corners of your emotional struggles, to bring you light and peace WITHIN those struggles.

· The child in your hands is the most precious things you have, it is your vulnerable truth, the truth of who you really are, poor as Jesus in the manger, and yet luminous as the morning star.

· Let us ask the grace of believing tonight. Not of believing in the old notion of God as Emperor, whose power is reflected in the sorry lives of the powerful people, but the grace of believing in the powerless God whose energy of transformation continues to shock us and to shine above us and within us. Amen.


· The Word became Flesh. This has been a source of astonishment and trouble. Especially for theologians. Wanting to preserve the purity of God: God cannot become (as we have heard in Hebrews). If God becomes, we lose our ground. But the text is clearly stating that in FLESH the Savior has come, that FLESH is central to salvation: “Caro cardo salutis”.

· In Jesus the divine was so powerful that people recognized him as being the Light itself who then, entering time and space, takes on a human body, other creatures are also imbued with the Light and are moved from within by the same energy of light. That is almost harder to believe than to believe that Jesus is an exception, the only case in which God becomes flesh.

· But God becomes flesh all the time in you and me. Granted, in a different way. But in a real way.

· There is a prayer that can be said softly while mixing some drops of water with wine at the Offertory: “May this water united with wine be a sign of our union with the divine life of Him who wanted to take on our human nature”. Human life, represented by water, a refreshing yet bland substance, yearns to be united with the divine life, which is full of passion and energy, which is intoxicating like wine.

· And we believe that, through the sacraments, such divine life is infused in us. Our life remains a human life, subject to pain, and frustration, and death and yet a life that is permeated and enlivened by the divine life.

· Anything we do, all the energy we spend for making this world a better place, all the love that we daily offer and receive, all of it is possible because of the light burning within us. Yet this light is too often clouded by our worries, our guilt, our delusions. Let us make this moment of celebration, now, a letting go… believing that God comes to save us in our very flesh, to make our passions and desires aflame with Her light. Amen.


the Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born

this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by

adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to

whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever.


the Prayer over the Gifts:

Accept, O God, this oblation which we offer you in this festival of our redemption: Vouchsafe

that these Holy Mysteries which show forth the reconciliation between our nature and your own,

may fulfill the same in us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.



Almighty God, whose power is shown in mercy, and whose glory is shown in loving-kindness:

Grant that you, who celebrate the Birth of the eternal Word,

may continually be born anew into the everlasting life.


Christ our God, whose Birth of blessed Mary united your own nature with the nature of God:

Himself fill you with every blessing of his presence,

and bring you to fulfillment in his own glorious likeness.


God the Holy Spirit, by whose creative power human flesh was made fruitful of everlasting life:

Engender in you true faith, holiness of life in all good works, and unwearying joy;

and bring you to your glorious inheritance, with all the saints in light.