26 December 2011
Nativity of the Lord, Mass at Midnight
I’ve mentioned before my deep love of the book The Lord by Romano Guardini, and it is the third chapter in book 1 that I reference tonight. Guardini, writing in 1937, mentions in that chapter that in the Mass (what we would now call the Extraordinary Form), the words of the Book of Wisdom help to guide the feast: “‘For while all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course, thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne…’” He continues, “The passage, brimming with the mystery of the Incarnation, is wonderfully expressive of the infinite stillness that hovered over Christ’s birth. For the greatest things are accomplished in silence—not the clamor and display of superficial eventfulness, but in the deep clarity of inner vision; in the almost imperceptible start of decision, in the quiet overcoming and hidden sacrifice…The silent forces are the strong forces.”
We are here, in the midst of the silence of this sacred night, recalling an event that took place almost 2,000 years ago in the silence of the night in Bethlehem, which forever changed human history, whether you believe in Jesus or not. As Christians we date time from this moment: everything which came before is BC—Before Christ. Everything which took place afterwards is in AD—Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord. Even those who wish to separate our dating of time from Christian belief, who use the term BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (the Common Era), still point to the time when Jesus was born in the manger, in the silence of the night.
The greatest things happen in silence. The silent forces are the strong forces. These words are no less true today than 75 years ago when Guardini wrote them. The greatest things do happen in silence. In silence the world was forever changed, not by some king, but by the King of kings; not by one who came to be served, but one who came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many; not by a strong, handsome adult, with thousands of Facebook friends, but by a child: a weak, helpless child, laying in a manger, surrounded by His Blessed Mother, His foster-father, and the animals of the stable.
But, as Isaiah prophesied, “upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Do not let his lowly birth fool you. Do not scoff at his humility. For the child that the shepherds came to adore: the child who was helpless in His mother’s arms, is the Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth. That little child caused a bush to burn without being consumed, split the Red Sea in two so that the Chosen People, His people, could escape from the Egyptian army. This child is weak, but He is no weakling. He is mild, but He smashes the yoke of slavery that burdened us and tramples underfoot the evil serpent, Satan, crushing his head.
That power, that glory, did not come with human activity: the decorating, the hurrying about, the shopping, the partying, but was announced only by angelic hosts to the shepherds in the fields, who heard them say, “‘I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today, in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.’”
So why come here now? Why come to this church in East Lansing? Why come each Sunday back to the Mass which, even given our new translations, does not really change that much? Why come in the midst of this dark, cold night to hear familiar carols being sung? We can do that at home, listening to the radio!
We come, in the dark, silence of this night, and each and every Sunday because He who was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, the “house of bread,” as the name Bethlehem means in Hebrew, because Jesus Christ is born again for us in this Mass: not as a child, but under the appearance of bread and win. His most holy Body and Blood adorn not a manger, but this altar. He is surrounded on earth not by His Blessed Mother and foster father, but by His mothers and brothers and sisters, those who do the will of His heavenly Father, as He tells us in Sacred Scripture. This holy night, this night divine, in the silence, broken only by the words of the priest saying those same words that Jesus spoke—“Take this, all of you, and eat of it;” “Take this, all of you, and drink from it”—Jesus Christ is made present to us today and at every Mass sacramentally just as He was made manifest to the shepherds 2,000 years ago in the stable in Bethlehem. We get the greatest gift of Christmas, the gift of being able to receive the same Jesus into us that the angels proclaimed in the heavens.
“Beloved: The grace of God 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, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”
“‘For while all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course, thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne…’” In the silence of this night Jesus Christ unites His Divine nature to our human nature, not just in the remembrance of His Nativity, but in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. O come, let us adore Him: Christ the Lord.