December 24, 2017

In this season of preparations, are our hearts ready to receive the Savior?

By Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski

The Infant Jesus is placed in the manger at the beginning of Christmas Eve liturgy at St. Michael’s Cathedral. (Photo by William Pacocha)

(Editor’s Note: The following is the homily delivered by Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski at the 4 p.m. Mass on Dec. 24 at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield.)

Isaiah 9: 1-6
Titus 2: 11-14
Luke 2: 1-14

What does Christmas mean to you? Is it the wonderful aroma of cookies baking in the oven that wafts through the whole house? Is it the shopping for relatives and friends and wrapping of presents? Is it gathering with family for a delicious meal? Is it sitting quietly at home enjoying the glow of the decorated tree?

Certainly it is all these things to us, but as we hear in our readings today, Christmas is much more than anything we can imagine. The ways that we celebrate Christmas with longtime family traditions and rituals certainly make this day special. I hope, though, in the midst of all this, we do not forget the real reason why all the preparation and celebration matter to us. 

For centuries, God’s people had hoped for a Savior, one who would come to set the world aright, who would correct the injustices, set the balance of power properly and restore order to a world that had been filled with strife. It was this hope that Isaiah the prophet had given such clear voice to express the longing of God’s people, that God would be become an intimate part of human history.

The adoration of the shepherds is depicted in this 17th-century painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. (CNS/Bridgeman Images) 

Of all the prophets, Isaiah is the one who dreams clearly that this time would come, for God never abandons His people. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah was able to give hope to a people who thought that God sometimes forgot about them, had even abandoned them. They had experienced exile in Babylon from their beloved home, Jerusalem. They mourned for their loss and longed for that day when they would return “home,” back to the place that God had them settle, where God dwelt among His people.

Isaiah foresees that God never abandoned His people, even in their times of trial and tribulation.  Our first reading from that great prophet tells us of a dream that is not farfetched, but near to the heart of Isaiah and a vision for God’s people: The Savior would indeed show the way to a world freed of conflict and division, violence and strife. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!” proclaims Isaiah. And when that light would come, when the Almighty would appear, the world would not be merely changed, but transformed. 

Although Isaiah had great foresight into knowing that God would come to His people, no one would ever have imagined the way that God entered the world. St. Luke tells us in the Christmas Gospel that Mary and Joseph were forced to go to Bethlehem as a result of a decree from an earthly government, a ruler who wanted to exert his power over an oppressed people. As Caesar Augustus was ensconced in the comfort of his mighty palace, the creator of the world was born in a lowly stable.

It was to the humble shepherds that this Good News was first proclaimed; they left their fields in response to the message of the angels. And they found not a palace, but a stable and God born in a  manger bed. None of Isaiah’s prophecies could have ever prepared the world to welcome the Savior in such a way.

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski delivers his Christmas homily during Christmas Eve liturgy at St. Michael’s Cathedral.    (Photo by William Pacocha)

The powerful were too preoccupied grasping their own perceived importance to recognize that human history had been altered forever; but the shepherds welcomed this good news. Many went about their lives not realizing that God had entered His creation, but the ones who were awaiting salvation had recognized that Isaiah’s words were indeed fulfilled.

The challenge of this Christmas day to each one of us is this: Do we recognize in all of our preparations, celebrations, gift exchanges and gatherings the presence of our Savior? Do we perceive a world transformed by His coming or have we missed those opportunities to be His instruments of peace and reconciliation for others? The powerful, the distracted and the self-important did not receive the message of the angels. The lowly, the humble and the seemingly insignificant did. This is true message of Christmas.

As St. Paul reminds Titus in our second reading from today, “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

All of us have been immersed in the preparations for Christmas Day in one way or another. Have we prepared our hearts to welcome Him, the joy of the nations, the Savior of the world and the true hope of us, God’s people?