Fr. Patrick S. Allen
Corpus Christi Catholic Community
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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.
The message the angel proclaimed to the shepherds so many centuries ago is still the message the Church proclaims, the truth to which it bears witness. A savior has come – and what a savior. I don’t get to the movies much, but I know something about the action-adventure genre, and so I know what a savior looks like and what he does. Slabs of muscle, a week’s growth of beard, an automatic rifle, and things blow up. Violence and destruction – that’s the way the rescue happens.
It’s easy to make fun of the endlessly repeated conventions of Hollywood movies, but those movies sell, they keep making them, because they speak to something in us – they appeal to a primal sense within us, a sense of what vindication and rescue – salvation – require.
It’s an old story, much older than Hollywood. So in the sacred Scriptures we read of Elijah, fleeing from wicked Jezebel, hides in the cleft of the rock and waits for the Lord to show up and the vindication to begin – and “a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.” And then – do you remember? – a still, small voice, and it was the Lord. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” he asks.
And now, in this newborn child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, that still, small voice, that Word, is made flesh. And, in a sense, in his own gurgling, squirming way, he asks, “What are you doing here?”
What are you doing here? Do you have some issues you want to thresh out? Babies can’t be argued with – I’ve tried. Is there some great end you want to see accomplished? Well, it’s no good enlisting babies in a cause. Are you here for a sweet, sentimental experience, “just like the ones you used to know” – cozy with family and nostalgia and the old carols? Well, we have all that, and I’m glad to have them – but of course, if that’s what you’re after, you’ll have to leave the baby out. Because this isn’t a celebration of some kind of abstract “baby-dom” – this child, “conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary” is a real, particular baby, who will need his Mother’s care, need to be fed, need to be changed. This is a baby born on the dirt and dung floor of a barn, now cradled in a feeding trough, because no one would give up a bed to a laboring mother.
And this is our Savior. This is our God. Power and majesty are laid by. Instead he comes in simplicity. He comes still and small. He will not reign by overwhelming force, because our salvation is to love him, and loving him to share in his life, because he is Love. And so he comes as a child.
Of course there are issues and arguments that we need to work through. And there are great and noble causes that call forth our commitment and best efforts. And there is, in every human heart, an aching nostalgia, a yearning for our true home. But the answer to the questions, the path to victory, the road home, all begin here, at the manger, with the Word spoken by and in the Baby. They begin with God, “for us men and for our salvation,” making himself small, emptying himself for us, giving himself to us, loving us.
In fact, saving us. Hollywood has its endlessly recycled story of salvation achieved by violence and destruction, and its an old story – no doubt Cain told it to himself as he slew his brother Abel. But the Christmas story is unique and ever new. The strong makes himself weak. God becomes a baby, and speaks to us, saves us, in the still, small voice of a baby’s coo. And the Word he speaks is life and joy and salvation, because the word he speaks, the Word he is, is Love.
So then, what are you doing here? Come, friends, let us adore him. Merry Christmas!
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