Throughout our year we are accustomed to celebrating many types of holidays and with them we associate different symbols, colors and even cards. From New Year’s Day mistletoe to St. Valentines Day chocolates, St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks to the Thanksgiving Day turkey. In our popular imagination, there are many things we associate with Christmas.
But the most important and enduring sign of this event is captured in its very name, “Christmas” – the Mass of Christ. Often we will hear the saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas”. I would dare to say “Keep the Mass in Christmas”. If we take Mass out of Christmas, then Christ is far removed from you and me, he is a simple idea, a revered figure from history, a figurine in a nativity set. If we take the Mass out of Christmas, all that is left on the day after is an empty box and a dead tree, – both will probably reflect the state of a human soul, a soul that hungers for the bread of life, True Bread from heaven, a soul calling out to be filled.
Of course, we can pray at home, in secret, throughout our day. But here in this place, our religious imagination is enkindled, our souls are touched at a much deeper level. We make connections, not simply with each other – we make connections with God through the carefully chosen words, the signs and sacred symbols we use when we pray together as a Church. In the Mass there is a language that allows our souls, not only to pray, but also to be opened up to reach into the mystery of God who has humbled himself to share in our humanity. By way of our sacred language in this holy ritual of prayer, we are assured through the Mass, that God has indeed visited his people, not simply as a past event, but also now in the present.
In the past, he placed himself in a stable, a place of food and nourishment, in a village called Bethlehem that literally means “House of Bread”. In our mind, we can think of the baby born to declare the love and peace of God – a child vulnerable, a little lamb. And here we see a cross, a man stretched upon it, still vulnerable – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Prince of Peace, born in a stable, placed in a manger (a feeding trough for cattle). And here at this Mass, reaching across the centuries the King of Kings is placed upon the altar of sacrifice, offering his body and blood as the anecdote of death, his risen and glorified body he offers us as the medicine of immortality.
May the words that we hear tonight/today, the images they suggest and the sights and sounds we notice, stir up the longings of our soul to remind us that we are searching, hungry for the face of God. In the sacrament of the Holy Mass we celebrate here tonight/today and every Sunday, God is with us. And when we hear the bell rung, its language will tell us that Jesus Christ has entered into our world and at this altar, the meeting place between heaven and earth, he is as real to us here this hour as he was to the shepherds of Bethlehem two thousand years ago. May we always have the courage to seek, find and look upon the very face of God and live. We welcome Christ in the Mass. O Come let us adore him – Christ the Lord.