25 Dec 2014
“[Mary] wrapped [Jesus] in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) In the name …
Jerry Lewis is an acquired taste, I have to admit, but I do like him. I think his slapstick is funny. Back in 1960 he starred in the movie Visit to a Small Planet, and earth was that small planet. His home planet was a lot more advanced than ours, and Jerry Lewis was supposed to be here on a school assignment. He always seemed to play bumbling characters and it was no different in this movie. He was not an A-student by any means and he broke all of the rules for observing us on earth. Like everyone around him knew that he was from outer space and he even started falling in love with a girl. As his teacher watched this unfold from the home planet he decided to punish Jerry Lewis. He tried to teach him a lesson. If he wanted to be one of us, then the teacher would let him be one of us, exactly like one of us. And this meant removing an invisible, protective shield from around him. Before, Jerry Lewis could touch others, but others couldn’t touch him. He never had to worry about pain or injury. Everything changed, however, once the shield disappeared. He got into a fight with the girl’s boyfriend and for the first time ever he found-out what it was like to get hit in the face. Pretty soon the police and even the army were coming after him and Jerry Lewis’ character was scared. Finally, the teacher shows-up and offers to take him back to their planet. Jerry Lewis couldn’t have been happier to leave earth and pain behind.
It’s one thing to come into this world looking like us, but having an invisible protective shield. It’s a completely other story to come into this world not just looking like us, but actually being us. That’s Christmas. That’s a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger because there was no room for Him at the inn. There’s no distinction or privilege granted to this child. He is meant to be us. I visited the living manger at the Whately Congregational Church this past Sunday. Harlan Bean played one of the characters. He and his son also supplied two oxen for the stable. I went over to talk to them and say Hello. Between the oxen, goat and chickens, there emerged a very distinctive odour inside that stable. It wasn’t necessarily offensive, but it wasn’t what I think heaven smells like either. That’s the introduction to our world that awaited the child. He is us. Joseph may have been of the lineage of King David, but that kingdom had disappeared over four centuries earlier and now Joseph was following the orders of a Roman king as he was forced to travel to Bethlehem. Royalty was at best a long-ago memory. His wife, as we talked about this past Sunday, was young, scared and confused. Traveling as late as she did in her pregnancy was also physically dangerous for Mary and her child. These are the parents and these the realities surrounding this child’s birth. He is us. There is no shield.
That Jesus is us is the Christmas message that we celebrate here this night. Now I have to throw in a little bit of church history to make a point. I’ll keep it brief. Christmas wasn’t always a part of the practice of our faith. Paul concentrates on Jesus’ death and resurrection. Mark’s Gospel, the oldest one, begins when Jesus is only about a year shy of His death. John’s Gospel, the last one, tells a story about how Jesus had no beginning so he doesn’t bother with a Christmas message. We know the Christmas stories are later additions because Matthew tells us about Wise Men and a star while tonight we hear Luke’s different account of shepherds and angels. Christmas really became important when some people in the church started teaching that Jesus was so much the Son of God that there was no real Son of Man left in Him. They emphasized His divinity so much that they thought it was insulting to talk about His real human nature. This is when the story of Christmas became important, and it’s that sacred message of Jesus is us. The great mystery of Christmas is that in that baby boy God had entered into our world without halo, crown or a shield. This is the beginning of the Good News, the gospel, and nothing after it makes any sense if we forget or minimize that Jesus is us.
But Christmas doesn’t end with Jesus is us. If Jesus is us, then it only makes sense that we can be like Jesus. That’s the other part of the Good News. And that’s the other reason why Christmas became important in the church. Some church people were beginning to say that creation was evil, that everything physical was corrupt and sinful, including us, and that nothing physical had to a connection with God. Christmas was the counter-argument. If Jesus is us, then us is sacred. There’s an Irish author and actor who once asked rhetorically: “Where does the dark go when you turn the light on?” [Spike Milligan] In other words, darkness has no substance. Darkness is nothing but the absence of light. Christmas is a celebration filled with light, almost defined by light. Look at the pictures on the front and back of your song sheets. Light symbolizes the presence of God. Remember that the light of the Christ Candle was shared with each of us and our combined light filled this sanctuary. Christmas is the powerfully joyous message of who we can be. We don’t need to be shielded from the world. Christmas means we can make a difference in the world. Darkness isn’t a force or a power working against us. It’s just us not working.
So on Tuesday I went for my annual physical and Dr. Viadero told me I should work harder at lowering my cholesterol. I said, “Doc, I just came home with four kielbasa and a sweet cheese bread from Worcester. I have an 8 pound ham that I’ll start eating after Mass on Christmas Eve.” So he gave me until January to start. See, Christmas can do amazing and wonderful things. Trust in the power of Christmas. Really believe in its revelation that Jesus is us and that means that we have a whole lot of potential to be like Him. May the light, music and message of this night bring us back to Bethlehem so that we can see with eyes of faith all that is possible in a world made sacred by Christmas, by Jesus, and even by us. And for this we pray in His most holy of names. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo