I must begin my remarks by sharing a confession with all of you: our church does not look this beautiful every Sunday! I do not speak of the decorations which beautifully announce our joy on this occasion when we celebrate the birth of the Child Jesus at Bethlehem. I am speaking about all of you, the people of God who fill and make beautiful the Lord's house which exists for your sakes, for the purpose of providing for your own meeting with Jesus at Christmas and every Sunday.
You are God's people through the grace of Baptism and your presence here which glorifies God beautifully praises His goodness and love and is a true Christmas gift to me, your priest, for which I thank and praise Him.
In our Mass this evening we also keep the Lord's Day holy together because Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. Here we are, together on a Sunday, perhaps to realize also as God's gift that we can indeed overcome the many things of daily life that sometimes seem to prevent us from making room for God here at Mass and in other ways!
We began our Mass for this vigil of Christmas which anticipates the birth of the Lord during the night in procession with our children, carrying the image of the Baby to the crib where he now lies with Mary and Joseph who show us well what it means to love and adore Him.
This Baby will, as must all of us whose birth into this world he shares, one day also die. But His death will not be as beautiful as is His birth this night. The wood of His crib foretells the wood of the Cross upon which He will freely give His life for you and for me. And His death will be truly for our sakes because His life which begins this night and shares in our lives is never to end: His Life Divine triumphs over the grave in order to share that victory with all flesh, with every human being who was ever born.
Each of us must make the connection in our own lives between the crib and the cross, between the beauty of Christmas and the joy of Easter, and it is accomplished by means of God's Christmas gift to each of us in Jesus Christ. Yes, this Jesus whose image is before us in the crib becomes truly present, the same Jesus Christ born at Bethlehem and risen in Jerusalem, in the Holy Eucharist at each holy Mass under the signs of bread and wine.
The idea of neglecting or hurting any child, whose very innocence calls out to each of us for protecting and nurturing love, is repugnant to all of us. Perhaps that is why Christmas, the celebration of the birth of a Baby named Jesus, holds such great attraction for us and for so many: so many people return to Church and many Catholics return to holy Mass on this day every year because it is so difficult to be indifferent to this beautiful child truly born of Mary 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.
Yes, we would be truly lacking in the basic good of humanity to turn away from this child with the indifference which shows the lack of a loving heart. But this child is not human in the same way as are all other babies: he is the Divine child though born very much the same as every child before and after Him. This child invites our love by his humanity which calls out for a response from the human nature that each of us share with Him. God is love, and because this Child is Divine he teaches us the truth about love so that we might conform our lives to Him and have true love. Do not be afraid: what God commands with His authority is love! Jesus Christ is born today to teach us the truth about love, which itself is a response to His own life and death.
The love that God commands, the love He teaches us, does not neglect or fall into indifference in regard to His holy day of Sunday, the day of His Resurrection, which He calls us to keep holy with Him. For this reason the Church, speaking only with His voice in His Holy Spirit, teaches that attendance at Sunday Mass is a grave obligation.
Our indifference to, or neglect of, the celebration of holy Mass on Sunday with His people the Church, is indifference to Him, the Resurrected One, for which we must seek forgiveness. The Church also teaches that God's forgiveness in Confession is necessary before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, born as He is in another "Christmas" at every Mass under the signs of bread and wine on our altar, after omitting to attend Sunday Mass or any other grave sin. In His love which knows no bounds Christ is "born" again in us as He gives us this forgiveness when we need it in the sacrament of Confession.
Should we not also say that mercy is born this night with the Holy Child who makes of Himself a gift to each of us through His forgiveness of our sins?
"To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little. Even more: to become "children of God" we must be "born from above" or "born of God". Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this "marvelous exchange": 'O marvelous exchange! Man's Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.' "(CCC 526)
Christmas every Sunday, a birth in the Eucharist on our altar which makes of this church another Bethlehem, is the gift this divine Child offers to each of us this holy night.
Let us pray, asking Him to make His love enter into our hearts and lives by grace so that we may never neglect the eternal Life which He offers us through His Body and Blood, laid in the crib and hung on the Cross, and then risen again so that we might rise with Him.
"Lord Jesus, truly born for us at Christmas, give us true Faith by which we are drawn in real love to always desire to be near you as we are this night. Help us to grow in our love of your Presence in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist by which your death on the Cross for us and your Resurrection may bring your power as God into our lives, at Christmas and each Sunday, with Your mercy which brings us life by destroying death. Amen."
Merry Christmas, everyone! Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.