First of all, a very Merry Christmas to you all. May this celebration of the birth of our Savior fill each of you with a new sense of Joy.
Indeed this is a happy time of year. It can certainly be a stressful time of year. We have so much going on and so much to do, that it is very easy for us to lose focus on what really matters. It is certainly cliché to say: Christ is the reason for the season, but indeed he is. We gather here today to celebrate the birth of Christ. He has to be our focus.
Almost 800 years ago St. Francis of Assisi began a tradition that has carried down to this very day. He is credited with inventing the nativity set. Perhaps he also found it difficult to stay focused on Christ during the feast of Christmas. So, in order to stay focused on Christ, we put up this nativity set.
We are blessed here at St. Jude to have such a detailed and wonderful manger scene. Thanks to all of Fr. Tom’s hard work, this manger scene will continue to be an inspiration for this parish for many years to come. Spend some time with this scene. Put yourself into it, imagine what it was like to lay eyes on the Word of God, born of the Virgin.
As I was contemplating this image of Jesus, who was born for us, a simple question kept popping into my mind. Why? We all know how Jesus gets there: the angel appears, Mary says yes, Joseph is visited by the angel, he protects this Holy Family. There was no room for them in the inn, etc. All of this tells us how Jesus gets into that manger. But, why is he there?
In perhaps the most famous line in all of scripture, St. John says it best: for God so loved the whole world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that all those who believe in him, even if they die, should not perish but live. This is the famous John 3:16, and it explains so well why Christ was born. He was born because of love.
And really, the birth of Jesus is just one chapter in the great love story of our creation. Love is the reason for everything.
One of my favorite spiritual authors is St. Alphonsus Liguori. He explains the whole story of creation and redemption as a story of love in 4 stages.
How do we know that God loves us? Simple, we exist. There is no other reason to explain our existence. I did not create myself. I was not responsible for my creation. If it was not for the love of God, there would be nothing in existence. Everything that exists exists because God loved it into creation. So the very fact that there is something in this universe as opposed to nothing is proof that God loved us.
But, we all know what happened, Adam and Eve turned away from God, they rejected his love, and we all pay the consequences of sin, death, sickness, disaster, you name it. How do we know that God loved us even after our sin? Easy, we look at this little baby in the manger. God continued to love us even after sin by sending his son Jesus to be our savior. This little baby was born to set us free from the very evil that we caused in the first place.
Now, we know that God loved us in the beginning and loved us even after sin. What about Jesus, how do we know that he loved us? We need to look no farther than the cross of Christ. This baby who is born for us today, is the same Jesus Christ who mounts the wood of the cross in order to put to destroy sin and death. His birth was brought about by love, but it is completed when he shows his great love for us on the Cross.
So, now we know that Christ loved us 2000 years ago, how do we know that He still loves us? Jesus continues to show his love for us by giving himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. The story of the birth of Christ is not simply a history lesson, because Christ continues to come into our lives each and every time we gather here to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Jesus continues to show his great love for us by giving himself to us every day in this way. 2000 years ago when Jesus was born, Mary laid him in a manger, which is where the food is placed for the animals. This is a powerful symbol for the altar, where Christ comes again, not as food for the animals, but the bread of life for each one of us.
So today we celebrate one chapter in the great love story of creation. God created us out of love, he sent Jesus as our savior out of love, Jesus died out of love, and he continues to feed us with his body and blood out of love. No wonder Christians should be filled with Joy. Because after having witnessed so much love given to each one of us, how can we do anything but love one another?