Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
I wish all of you a very blessed Christmas, to you all and to those you love, to those with whom you and I, all of us, will be blessed to keep Christmas. I say this not only for myself, but for Fr. Mech and Fr. Gonyeau. So very happy to have those of you who are here especially for the Midnight Mass and I see lots of parishioners, so I’m particularly glad to be able to wish you all “Merry Christmas.”
Certainly, each of us brings to tonight’s celebration, to our keeping of Christmas, very particular memories. Christmas is a vivid time and it might be an ornament we recall or…my brother and sister-in-law were with me at my house before Mass…we were talking about a box that survived about twenty Christmases and always had one gift or another. That’s one memory. Another very favorite memory of mine is about the carol “Angels We Have Heard on High”…it’s the first carol I had to memorize. I remember Sr. Magdelina had it printed in very clear script at the side blackboard. And so I think about angels at Christmas.
This Christmas, I have a particular thought about angels. For the last two weeks really, I’ve been considering their role, particularly because they come as messengers in all of the accounts that lead up to this night and then in the Gospel we heard. Now, we’re not talking about that guy Clarence who got his wings when the bell rang. That’s not what we’re thinking of. But in the Scriptures of Our Lord’s coming, angels are important as messengers. A connection between this world and God’s realm: heaven. And so that’s what I’d like to reflect with you about a bit tonight. And especially what the angel host said to the shepherd: “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests.”
Let’s think a bit about that. First of all: “glory,” the glory the angels announced; and then the “peace.” Because we live in a celebrity culture, we can sometimes misunderstand glory and think of it as kind of a glamor. A sort of “being well-known.” Or we might think of it sometimes as the result of someone being a showboat; someone showing off; “hogging the glory,” we might say. But, of course, that’s nothing of what the angels were announcing when they said “Glory to God in the highest.” Because glory is the manifestation of what’s truly good and truly excellent. In our ordinary life it might be someone who’s very good, say, at building a beautiful building and we say “Oh, that’s glorious.” Or think perhaps, if you’ve ever had the privilege of being present at a perfectly pitched game: that’s pitching at its most glorious.
Glory is when what is the case in all of its goodness shines out. That’s glory. And so when the angels sang about God’s glory, they were saying that on that night, the first Christmas night, God shows Himself to be what it is for God to be God. That’s glory. He showed Himself as merciful and compassionate.
In the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son who took flesh from Mary and was born in the inn, God is glorified. God is seen in His true colors for everything that He is. As it says, Paul to Titus, the grace of God has appeared. See, it might not have looked very glorious to someone who didn’t have that pointed out by the angel. It doesn’t look very glorious to see a wrinkly, red newborn baby laying in a feed trough. That’s not very impressive. Until you recognize that this is God the Son and then begin to understand that the all powerful God is so good that He has come to be like us in our weakness.
And so glory isn’t for God necessarily about strength, omnipotence; it’s about His condescension. its about His love. God is love. And in seeing the baby Jesus, the Christ child, we see the glory that love, that love which is so immeasurable. That He who could never have died as God took on our human flesh so that He could die our death and put it to death and give us life.
On this night, the very idea of glory is redefined. It becomes servant love. And so we begin to understand better the peace that the angels announced to the shepherds. This peace they said would fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah which we heard in the first reading, so familiar that perhaps some of it we can recite by heart: A child is born to us, a son given to us. Prince of peace. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
And this peace, then, is not an armistice. It’s not the peace of simply being without violence, but it’s the peace of the complete reconciliation of every enmity. It’s the peace that comes when all is made right and everything is healed and rearranged according to God’s plan. A peace that is rooted in this humble, lowly glory of the infant Jesus in the manger. And so the shepherds went to see this glorious peaceful thing, this newborn baby, and they, in turn…having accepted the good news of the angels, having received this Gospel, having been evangelized by the heavenly host…they, in turn, become evangelizers. They share this good news, we hear later in St. Luke’s Gospel.
And so this is what we must be. We must all be angels, messengers of this good news, proclaiming this very peculiar kind of glory. Not the glory of empire, the glory of a caesar or a czar or a king. But the glory of humble total self-giving love. Yes, we are invited to believe. We have been evangelized, But then we in turn must share this good news with others. The good news that evil can be conquered and it is conquered and its transformed from something ugly into something beautiful when it’s borne with patient love. Even the evil of death can be something glorious. When the believer, when the disciple of Jesus Christ, dies with faith and confidence in the power of the resurrection. Even our failures can be glorious…our limits…our trials…when we live them with confidence and hope in God. This is the glory we proclaim to the world. And it’s glory the world needs to see and experience. Because we live in a world that is in so many ways blighted and to that world you and I must be the angels that bring this good news about God’s glory, a glory that, because it’s love, transforms even what’s lowly and weak into something wonderful when life is lived with trust in God.
This is our mission, our mission to be like the angels. The voice of this good news that today a Savior has been born. It isn’t hopeless. It can all, and it all will, be turned around and upside down and made right. And so I have two suggestions for each of you: tomorrow, Christmas morning, sometime perhaps in this whole week before New Year’s, find someone with whom you can share this good news. Explain to someone why you’re joyful at Christmas. Perhaps say a prayer with them, a spontaneous prayer, or simply make a comment about how it’s by having Jesus that life has any meaning. And the second is every Sunday, when you come to Mass and we sing the Gloria, be reminded that you have a vocation. that you are called to be a messenger. In Greek “aggelos”, an angel. To share with the world what those angels on the first Christmas shared with the shepherds. This great, good news that the world is hungry for. What we were created to know. God is glorious in His grace, in His unbounded love, and that it is through this love that we will have the peace that our hearts long for.
I pray you have a very, very blessed Christmas and I pray that you have a lot of energy to go out there and do your work as angels.
God bless you.