The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
This homily is adapted from a reflection of Marco Pappalardo in Advent and Christmas with the Church Fathers (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2010), 49).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Lord give you peace!
Saint Jerome once cried out, “Oh, if only I could see that manger in which the Lord was laid” (Homily on the Nativity of the Lord, 31)!
It was these same sentiments in his heart that led Saint Francis of Assisi to ask permission of the Pope to hold what we might call the first living Nativity scene in Greccio in the year of Our Lord 1223.
Are these not the same sentiments in our hearts this day? Have we not come to celebrate the Mass of Christmas to see not simply the manger, but the Lord himself who was laid in it?
We are often enamored of the beauty of many Nativity scenes with their depictions of the Christ Child, of Mary and Joseph, of the shepherds and Magi and angels. Sometimes, too, we are moved to deep prayer by such images; but, too often, these displays do not impress much upon us.
Let us, then, beg the Lord this night that our lives might become like living Nativity scenes. As we look upon the Nativity scenes in our churches and homes, let us beg the Lord to use them to inspire us to live as true and faithful Christians.
As you look upon the sheep and oxen resting quietly near the place of the Lord’s birth, let your legs be like the legs of these animals who, step by step, went to the manger to praise their Creator.
When Holy Mary said to the angel, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” the Lord Jesus grew inside of her (Luke 1:38). As he grew physically in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, so may he grow spiritually in each of our hearts who have come to welcome him and to receive him in the Holy Eucharist.
Saint Joseph cradled the Child of Bethlehem in his arms, and used them also to embrace and protect him. Let our arms be like those of Joseph, as we embrace and serve Jesus in those we meet each day.
The angels announced the birth of the Savior of the world with songs of joy, crying out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Let our voices, too, be lifted up in joyful song in the praise of the newborn King.
The shepherds heard the song of the angels and “went in haste” to see this great wonder they announced (Luke 2:16). Let our ears be like theirs, eager to hear news of salvation and open and receptive to Lord’s will for us.
Gazing into the heavens, the Magi recognized a unique and important star. Let our intellects be like theirs who, seeing the star with faith, journeyed to meet the Lord. Today, may we, too, may our minds be captured by the wonder of our God, who became one of us so that we might become like him.
Finally, let our hearts – this day and every day – be like that manger that held the Creator of the heavens, the eternal Lord of Glory. Let us approach the solemnity of this great mystery with joyful love, ready and eager to receive the One who took on our poverty that we might be made rich in him.
If we celebrate the feast of Lord’s birth in this way, we will not need to see the manger that held the Lord, for we will see him with the eyes of faith, we will taste his goodness in the Eucharist, and we will know his joy and peace in our hearts. With Saint Francis and all the saints, may we, looking upon the Nativity scene and becoming a living one ourselves, “be gladdened with new joy at the renewal of the mystery” of Emanuel, of God with us (Tomaso de Celano, First Life [of St. Francis of Assisi, XXX, 84). Amen.
A blessed and merry Christmas to you all!