• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

A Nativity Homily: The Invasion

“O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy darkness shineth the everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

What did you come out to see tonight?

The world boasts all kinds of wonders. Daunting skyscrapers, exhilarating concerts, endless shopping…nearly everything everywhere promises happiness and fulfillment. Oprah, Madonna, Jeff Bezos, and all the others shine like stars. The possibilities are infinite. There’s not enough time to keep up with it all.

But what did you come out to see tonight?

What did the magi hope to find when they set out for Bethlehem? What did the shepherds seek when they descended their hills? Why did the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph kneel in worship in that weather-beaten stable?

An infant, with soft limbs and a small cry lies in a manger.

Away from the noise, away from the bustle, away from the promises of the world, what have you come out to see?

God has become flesh.

Christmas is about an invasion.

Some say Christmas is about gift giving, or family, or philanthropy. But all that is utterly wrong.

Christmas is about an invasion of heaven on earth.

Since that first Christmas day, the self-contained world of man has no longer been self-contained. Heaven has broken in. Before, there was the world up there and the world down here. But Jesus Christ has shattered that distance, as a tiny, innocent child, and that changes everything.

What does Christmas mean?

“God is now on earth, and man in heaven,” So St. John Chrysostom preached in the fourth century, summing up Christmas. “God is now on earth, and man in heaven…All things [now] commingle…He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven could not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infants’ food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him…the heavens give glory…the Lord is revealed by a star.”

Can you hear what he’s saying?

Everyone is looking for God, whether they acknowledge it or not. Some look for Him in science or philosophy. Others look for God in alcohol, drugs, or the brothel. Others, still, seek Him in acts of charity or in one’s spouse or partner. But all this eventually lets us down. So we keep on looking, and keep on being disappointed. Oprah, Madonna, success, technology, relationships…these do make us happy for a little while. Then that happiness putters out. It doesn’t take a prophet to say, “All is vanity…a chasing after wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:14). Most of us figure this out after a while. But what then? What, in these 80 years that we have to live, or 60, or 40, or fewer…what does satisfy? What can the skyscrapers and concerts offer you when you lie on your deathbed? Is this all there is?

Something sets us apart from the rest of nature. Dogs, cats, the birds and fish…they are content with life. We aren’t. We’re restless.

Why? Because we’re meant for more.

Our souls are restless until they rest in God.

Christmas frees us from the restlessness and meaninglessness.

In the Gospel of John we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (1:1,14). “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (1:12).

C. S. Lewis paraphrases this: "The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God."

That means that you and I don’t have to be bored any more. We can become holy, here, and now, in soul and body.

“We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

“He has given us His precious and magnificent promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

So often, we Christians miss the whole point of Christianity. We get a little taste of Christ and say, “Oh, how lovely, but that’s enough for me.” We think Jesus wants us to be polite with Him, when He’d rather we were violent. He doesn’t want us to be satisfied with a drop of grace. He wants us to pour the cup down our throat like a drunkard to the drink. He wants us to dive into the ocean that is God.

And this is what we see in the lives of the saints. The Apostles, St. Patrick of Ireland, Santa Lucia, St. Nicholas, St. John of San Francisco…they are saints because they were greedy for God. Day and night, they poured through the scriptures, prayed through midnight vigils, and gave all they had to the poor, because they’d found the Pearl of Great Price. The saints are saints because they didn’t settle for less, they wanted true pleasure, true beauty, true holiness.

Christmas is not about kindness.

Christmas is about holiness. Like a deluge of rain, heaven poured into earth in Bethlehem and can pour today in your hearts.

This is the meaning of the incarnation.

We touch God when we come to the Chalice and drink His Body and Blood. We smell God in the incense. We hear God in the singing of the choir. We paint pictures of God, because we’ve seen Him. God is no longer invisible. He is flesh. He is Emmanuel, God with us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

A priest in Greece once preached, “It is up to my own freedom to get angry, fall in love, play, create, eat, rejoice, be sorrowful, in such a matter that will bring me continuously closer to the Divine Source of my being: this is what the Incarnation means. God does not call me to escape from this world, but to transform it into a place of His manifestation.” This is the incarnational life. This is the meaning of Christmas. Every breathe of oxygen, every moment you enjoy a piece of music or a walk through nature, in the delicious Christmas turkey and savory wine, and in that smile of your friend or beloved, there you too can experience God, for God has become flesh.

But we have to take warning from the message of Christmas?

Christ was born in a manger. He was quiet. He was small. Most of the crowds didn’t even notice.

The world, with its Oprahs and Madonnas, was too busy to receive Him. The noise, the excitement, the promises were too much. Society didn’t have time for God, as it doesn’t today. The star shown brightly in heaven, but most had their heads down to the floor. They didn’t see. The angels sang boldly in the skies, but the ears of the crowds were too clogged. They didn’t hear. The world hasn’t changed.

A philosopher, named Soren Kierkegaard, one remarked, “If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I would reply: Create silence! The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were blazoned forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore create Silence.”

If you’re not convinced, it says it all in the Psalms, “Be still, and know that I am God” (46:10).

Some doubt whether God exists. Others believe, but can’t feel Him. Where is He?

Christmas has the answer.

God is with us, but if you want Him, you have to go to the manger.

Look up. The stars are pointing the way. Be quiet and still. The heavens are singing about Him. Get down on your knees. Only with a humble heart can you see God.

I will wrap up by meditating on a short poem, by G. K. Chesterton, for it is in poems and carols that we can best express the wonder of Christmas.

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap, His hair was like a light. (O weary, weary were the world, But here is all aright.) The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast His hair was like a star. (O stern and cunning are the kings, But here the true hearts are.) The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart, His hair was like a fire. (O weary, weary is the world, But here the world's desire.) The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee, His hair was like a crown, And all the flowers looked up at Him, And all the stars looked down

The world is weary. The politicians are stern. Life is cold and disappointing, but you don’t have to stay there.

We are free.

Leave it all and follow the star.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

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