The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Day): Mass at Dawn
Ps 97:1, 6, 11-12
Possible preaching themes:
- The immensity of God vs. the smallness of a baby.
- God is “growing” both in ways that exceed the expansion of the universe, as well as – literally – growing as a baby.
- The love of God revealed in the Incarnation.
- The Universe is immense and expanding and it is difficult for people to grasp its size. God fills all of this and more, yet comes as a tiny baby in the Incarnation. It echoes the words of poet Richard Crashaw “…eternity shut in a span.” On the ever expanding universe, see these short articles and videos :
- Love – in human terms – entails some physiological reactions in the brain. Is God’s love like this, or beyond it? These articles and one short video give a glimpse of what science says about love:
Homily outline combining sources:
The immensity of God’s universal love:
- The universe is huge, but God is yet larger, filling all things.
- How and why does such immensity become located in the person of a baby? There can be but one theological answer:
- Love is the binding agent that ties the events (shepherds, angel choirs, pregnancy) to its meaning (incarnation, redemption, salvation).
- Science is discovering that “love” includes a host of brain functions for human beings.
- God’s love may include such physiological phenomena, but God’s love cannot be reduced to such things. God’s love must be more than human/scientific understandings of “love.”
An Expansive yet Intimate God:
- Science informs us that the universe is expanding.
- Ironically, in the incarnation, God quite literally becomes
- Two things can be true at once:
- God is always larger than the expanding universe.
- In the incarnation, God’s historical presence in Jesus is physically smaller than the universe.
- This condescension is an act of love and enables divine intimacy at a very human level.
We form meaning one bite of information at a time:
- Such large expanses of space cannot be comprehended by the human mind.
- We have to perceive certain “chunks” of information and then relate them to other stimuli.
- Similarly, God – who is yet larger – cannot be comprehended by the human mind.
- For the Incarnation to mean anything to us, it has to be digested in small pieces.
- The things of earth fill the Christmas story in order to help us digest it:
- Pregnancy (“…eternity shut in a span”);
- Mary, who has to make sense of all of this one step at a time;
- Shepherds who are given a specific task: go find the child;
- Later, the Magi witness the immensity of the heavens reorganizing itself to point to the Incarnation.
- Did the vastness of space reorganize itself to pay homage to the Incarnation? Christians say yes.
Light reaching forward and backwards
- Many of the readings today deal with the concept of light or seeing (First Reading, Psalm, Second Reading, and Gospel).
- Light from stars that we see in the universe today is the physical record of something that has already happened.
- This means that what we understand as “cosmic history” is not linear, since the images we receive through the Hubble and James Webb telescopes – like an exploding nova – are records of events that have already happened. Light is actually a kind of cosmic time machine.
- Similarly, the yearly celebrations of Christmas are a religious way of “seeing” an event that has happened, yet an event that is being experienced right now.
- The medieval Church understood this well in its celebrations of the Annunciation: salvation was as good as “done” the moment that Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary;
- The grace of the historical birth of Jesus thus reaches forward (to now),
- and backward, clearly to the Annunciation, but one could argue even farther
- for in the beginning was the Word (John 1:1).
- Science is learning to speak of time reversing itself.
- The Christmas story is full of reversals as well:
- the angels go back into heaven;
- the shepherds change the course of a normal evening (tending the sheep) to go to Bethlehem;
- God comes extra nos from divine omnipotence to condescended smallness;
- Easter is the same: saving what comes after it, as well as saving what came before it.
- In this way, Easter and Christmas are two sides of the same coin: salvation. Do not forget that they are related!
- God is only God in self-disclosure: we would know nothing of God were God not interested in letting us know something.
- The shepherds themselves say this (“…which the Lord has made known to us.”)
- To “know” anything about God is, like light, an illumination of understanding: an understanding of what has happened and an understanding of what is happening!
- The Christmas story is full of reversals as well:
The Incarnational Mission
- A key way that the gift of incarnation shines forward is through the baptized.
- We are the embodiment of the Christ light, so needed to shatter the darkness of prejudice and violence in our own time.
- As we celebrate the expanding mystery of God’s presence, that fills all of the cosmos,
- We also recognize that that same illuminating presence fills each of us, as tiny as we might appear in the history of salvation.
- Thus this holy morning we not only celebrate this immense gift of cosmic light that still engulfs us,
- But also commit ourselves to its expansion in our communities and in the world.
Poetic musing: so with the poet we give thanks:
“Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span;
Summer in winter; day in night;
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav’n to earth.”
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