19 December 2005

Homily for Christ-Mass

No one gets Christmas who doesn’t get the tabernacle. That first reading was not at all incongruous with the Mystery we celebrate today. It was the very unfolding of its deepest meaning. For just as God long ago chose in His mercy to dwell in a tent among His people that He might bring them into communion with Himself and give them a share in His divine life, so when the fullness of time came, God pitched His tent in an extraordinary manner among men. The tent this last and final time was not made of animal skin, but of a holy Virgin. God dwelt in Her flesh as in the Tabernacle, making her to be the living Ark, and thus disclosed to us the most astonishing thing about God’s plan for the human race.

You see, as with Mary, so with us. The Eternal Son pitched His tent among us in her precisely so that He could dwell inside of us!

Christmas is not the feast of a Child born long ago and far away. Christmas is the Feast of the God who loved us so much as to take our human nature upon Himself so that He might in that human nature impart to us Himself and thus a share in His unending life!

Christmas. A running together of two words: Christ-Mass. The Mass, the Eucharist, the Holy Communion of Christ. He comes to us today in the Mass, in the Eucharist, the very same One who came so long ago in Bethlehem, having taken up His residence in the Virgin Mother’s body so that His little heart beat beneath her own, the heart of God alive and sounding under an altogether human heart. God’s heart and man’s heart, beating as one.

He came into our flesh, this little One, in order to drive the death away from our flesh, to make it share in His own immortality, cleansing it of sin, making it new and whole in Himself so that He might take up residence within us by means of that flesh and blood He received from Mary.

The English poet laureate, John Betjeman, saw the truth of Christmas day with astounding clarity. He wrote:

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
Nor carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare--
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

God was man in Palestine. That is the truth we celebrate on Christmas Day and indeed there is nothing that compares with this truth. We are a visited planet. God has come to us. God has pitched His tent among us in human flesh and blood. The tabernacle of the Most High!

But there is more. “And lives today in bread and wine.” His body and blood, what He once put on, He never puts off. He exalts to the highest. Our human flesh and blood made the body and blood of God in the incarnation, crucified and then raised, exalted beyond the heavens, and then fed into our mouths that our sins might be wiped out, our death destroyed, and eternal life given to us.

For the Child was born that He might die, and death might die in Him. Listen to how it is sung in the Boar’s Head carol:

The mightiest Hunter of them all
We honor in this festal hall,
Born of a humble Virgin mild,
Heaven's King became a little child.
Caput apri defero, reddens laudes Domino!

He hunted down through earth and hell
The swart boar Death until it fell.
This mighty deed for us was done.
Therefore we sing in unison:
Caput apri defero, reddens laudes Domino!

Let not this boar's head cause alarm,
The huntsman drew his power to harm.
So death, which still appears so grim,
As yielded all its power to him.
Caput apri defero, reddens laudes Domino!

And so He calls us to feast today upon His living Body and Blood, which was born of the holy Virgin, the body and blood of the Mighty Huntsman of death who has drawn its power to harm by forgiving our sins, who would live inside of us in His body and blood, the pledge and the very gift of everlasting life. Communion with God. We now His tabernacle. Glory to God in the highest, indeed! And on earth, peace, good will toward men. Amen and Amen!

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