25 December 2010

The Face of Love

Christmas Eve & Day
            What does love look like?  Does it look like a couple of high school sweethearts, snuggled up together watching a movie?  Does it look like a young couple, kissing for the first time as husband and wife at their wedding?  Does it look like a mother, holding her first-born child and gently rocking it to sleep?  Does it look like a couple that has been married for many years, simply sitting together, enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company?  What does love look like?
            While all of the examples I have listed above are instances of where love can be found, as Catholics we know what love looks like, because love is not some invisible force.  Love is a Person, a Divine Person, who took on human nature, who became one like us in all things but sin.  What we celebrate this evening/morning is love, which was made present to us through the face of the Christ Child. 
            What we celebrate this evening/morning is the incarnation of love, a love for a particular people, a people which was not the greatest nation on the earth, but which was, as Deuteronomy says, “peculiarly” the Lord’s.  We celebrate the love of God, who, as St. John tells us, is love, which, through the birth of Jesus, has fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah and “brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing.”  We celebrate the God who became man so that “the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster,” the yoke, pole, and rod of sin and death, could be smashed into pieces and destroyed.  We celebrate God who “has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul tells us in the second reading from the Letter to Titus.
            What is amazing is that this love that fulfills the prophecies of all the prophets, the love that puts and end to sin and death, smashing them into small pieces as a piece of glass is shattered when thrown down upon the ground, the love which took flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the annunciation as she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and which, after nine months was made manifest for the first time with a human body, this love which is pure power itself, was also itself so helpless at its appearance in the world.
The place of the Nativity of Our Lord at the
Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank
            This love, which could be compared to a great fire, began its manifestation in the world as nothing but a small flame, like the flame that lights a single, small candle on a birthday cake.  It was so small and so fragile, that the slightest breeze might put it out.  And yet, while there was no room for this small flame in the inn, love’s fire was protected by St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, and allowed to start to burn brightly.  And the fire grew because it was received by St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother.  From that one flame of Divine Love, small though it was, more candles were lit to illumine the night of darkness.  Mary and Joseph’s candles received that love, that fire, and the flames, ever so slowly, grew. 
            And then the angels, seeing their God, their King, fulfill the prophecies of old, broke into song to announce this great news, that what no human had dared hope for or suspected, the incarnation of the Second Divine Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Word who was from the beginning “with God” and “was God,” through whom “All things came to be…and without him nothing came to be”, the light of the world, the “light [that] shines in the darkness,” could be known by all in swaddling clothes in a manger in the City of David, Bethlehem, “and the darkness has not overcome it.”
            And the shepherds, hearing this great news from the angels, and hearing them sing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,” went in haste to see this light, this fire in the night, and upon seeing it themselves were filled with the love that they saw and received the fire of love themselves, giving strength to the flame which has started out so small.
            Brothers and sisters, we stand in a line of many who have received this fire of love, and by our own reception have helped the flame to grow.  We come tonight/today, like the shepherds, to celebrate news which seems too good to be true: that our God loves us so much that He would become like us in all things but sin.  But, while the fire of love which illumines those who have received Christ could illumine almost every part of the world because of the great acceptance of Jesus Christ by the people He came to save, our own flames of love, first received from Christ in our baptism, relies upon our faith and the actions which stem from it, to continue burning brightly.  Christ will not force the fire of His love upon us.  If we let it go out, then He stands ready to enkindle the flame of love in our hearts again, but will not impose Himself upon us.  Love never imposes itself, but freely gives and waits to be received. 
            We all know the darkness of the evils that face our world: greed, poverty, racial strife, war, the great sorrow of abortion and euthanasia, and so many more.  If we want to illumine the darkness so that it no longer exists, we must bring the fire of our faith, the fire of our hope, the fire of our love (all of which are gifts from God), and let it shine before all “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”  In this way we help others to see what love looks not, not by looking at us, but by seeing the face of love, Jesus Christ, in us.  Love is not some invisible force.  It is not the sum of all the ways that it is expressed through people.  Love is a Person, and today we celebrate that Person being born in the flesh.  We celebrate the ability to see love in the face of the Christ Child.  Come, let us adore Him!