It's Christmas and all our worries- the food, the dinner guests, our families, the presents- seem to be multiplied. Jesus' birth is supposed to bring us peace, but instead, during this time of the year, it seems that what we have least of is peace.
And we go to Christmas Eve Mass looking for a little bit of peace. We hope to listen in the Gospel that beautiful Christmas story that we all love with the starry night, the angels, the shepherds and the little lambs (or at least we assume that there are lambs if there are shepherds). But instead of that story, we have to listen to a long list of names: the geneology of Jesus! (Matthew 1:1-25) All these unpronounceable names. Names like Jeconiah, Zerubabbel and Rehoboam. Forty-two names. What does that have to do with Christmas?
It has to do with God's patience; with his faithfulness and with his plan. And that's what Christmas is about: God's patience, his fidelity and his plan. It's a Scripture reading that reminds us that God is bigger than all of us and bigger than our plans. In Jesus' ancestors we have all the heroes and all the gangsters of Hebrew history. We have all the saints and all the sinners. These are the protagonists of the story of God's love for his people. Beginning with Abraham, the greatest of them all. Abraham was a great one, the father of all the Jewish (and Arab) people. He had a great faith. And his son Isaac was also great. But Isaac's son, Jacob was a bit of a liar and Jacob's eldest, Judah was the darling brother who had the brilliant idea of selling his little brother, Joseph into slavery. The one who follows Judah, Perez was conceived because Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, Tamar thinking she was a prostitute. And so, we continue, with a long line of not-so-perfect ancestors until we get to King David, the great King David. He was great and also had great lust. He sleeps with the wife of Uriah (who, by the way, was David's good friend and one of his generals) and when David finds out that she's pregnant, he arranges to have Uriah killed in battle. Still, after all the adultery and murder, it is one of the children of David with the wife of Uriah who grows up to be the great King Solomon, one of the greatest kings of Israel. But then we continue with Solomon's children, grand children and great-grand children whose sins led to the division of the Kingdom and the Babylonian exile. And from the exile, fourteen generations later, St. Joseph is born. Joseph marries a young woman who was already pregnant...
It's just like our families, eh? We all have, in our families, sinners and saints; heroes and gangsters - everyone has in their family someone who's divorced or struggling in their marriages. Everyone has a great uncle who was an alcoholic and some cousin, sister or aunt who was unmarried and pregnant. All families struggle though lies, insults, yelling and tears. Living in family gives us lots of opportunities for forgiveness and for patience; for "putting on love" (Col. 3:12-17). All of us sometimes are sinners and sometimes are saints. And it is into that human family that our Saviour is born. Into a family like yours and like mine. And that's the family with which we sat down for a not-so-perfect Christmas dinner a few nights ago, to celebrate with food, drinks, music and the exchange of gifts.
That's how we celebrate the birth of God-made-man. That's how we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the king of kings. But this king's birth is not celebrated with drinks, music, presents and so much food that we have to waste it. The birth of this king comes to us through the womb of a young woman who is pregnant before marriage. This king is not born in a palace. This king is born in a stable because no one has a place for them to stay. This king has no place to be born in and so he is born in a dirty, stinky stable next to the animals that let him sleep in their manger. This is the God-of-gods and yet he comes as a defenseless baby whose diapers have to be changed. And the news of this king's birth does not come first to the rich, the powerful or the educated. The news comes first to the poorest of the poor, to the shepherds. And after this king's birth the Holy Family has to flee to another country because Herod wants to kill the child. This king-of-kings doesn't have were to live and so he lives his first years as a refugee in a strange land... This is our God: The God of sinners, the God of adulterers, of liars and those who do not trust in God. He is the God of the poor, of those who don't have much, those who have no education and those who have no place to stay. Recently Pope Francis said that "the faith of the Church comes to us through the heart of the poor." I am not entirely sure what he means by that but I think that it has to do with the fact that even though God comes as a human being in order to save everyone and the Good News is for everyone, this news usually comes to us through the small ones. It's always been that way. And if we have problems finding God, perhaps it's because we are looking in the wrong place.
God is made incarnate in our poverty. God makes himself flesh in our pain and in our fear. God finds his birthplace in the stable of our insecurities and our feeling inadequate. We can find God when we feel tired and lost. If you cannot find God, look for him in the poor, in the oppressed and the afflicted. Look for Him among the refugees and the captives. Look for him in your hunger, your stress, your sickness, in your ignorance and your unemployment. Look for Him in your brokenness; that's where you will find Him.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. We celebrate the fact that God chose to come into the world through a family; a family like yours and like mine; with all the joys and struggles that come with being family. At Christmas as well, we are reminded that one day Jesus will also come again in Glory. That is the second coming that we await in joy. But we also celebrate a "third coming". Christ comes to us every day when we ask him to and especially when we gather as family to receive him in the Eucharist.
This God, the God-of-gods, who is bigger than all; the King and Creator of the Universe, God who can carry all creation in the palm of his hand, just as He makes himself so small so as to be inside the womb of a teen-aged girl, He makes himself small, in the form of unleavened bread, so that we can gaze at him, so we can adore him and so that we can receive him as food; so that He can really come into us and feed us and nourish us. Let us not be like the inn-keepers of Bethlehem and let's receive Him. Let's let him come and be born inside of our tired and weary hearts.
And this God who is a God of family, this God who brings us peace, will enter into your life and into your family and will fill you with peace so that we can truly sing with the angels, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill!