Sunday, December 25, 2016

Homily for the Vigil of Christmas

Homily for the Vigil of
Dec. 24, 2016
Is 62: 1-5
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you” (Is 62: 5).

Let’s talk about marriage!

That’s a strange topic for Christmas Eve.  But there it is in the reading from the prophet Isaiah, and in the reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, where the angel instructs St. Joseph to take the Virgin Mary as his wife.

Christmas is very much about marriage, indeed!  Speaking thru Isaiah, God tells his people Israel, “Your Builder shall marry you,” and God shall rejoice over Israel like a groom rejoicing over his bride.  When the eternal Son of God became incarnate—took on our humanity—God our Maker wedded himself to us.  God became man.  The 2 became 1 flesh.  From that moment in history, God totally embraces the human race, and his intention is to bring us into his own home, as Joseph took Mary into his home (Matt 1:24).
Joseph's Dream, by Cerezo Barredo
This divine-human marriage is shown to us, as well, in the Virgin Mary.  “It is thru the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (Matt 1:20).  God chose Mary to be his spouse.  God, so to speak, has married into our human family.  We could almost say that we all have God for a father-in-law!

So at Christmas we celebrate the great festival of God’s union with the human race, a union personalized in Jesus Christ our Savior.  The angel informs Joseph that this son of Mary “will save his people from their sins” (1:21).  His people!  We are his people, his kin, his brothers and sisters, because the eternal God has come down to us, has asked to join the family—he asked, I say, because, in Matthew’s account of the story of Jesus’ birth, Joseph had to agree to take in Mary so that the Old Testament prophecies could be fulfilled, that Jesus should belong to the house of David (1:20).  And in Luke’s account of the Annunciation, Mary had to consent to the heavenly Father’s request before the Son could take her flesh and bone, her genetic code, all the essence of humanness that she could offer him.  She had to welcome the Son of God into the home of her womb, allow him to become part of her family, and thru her of our family.

God loves irony.  The Scriptures are full of irony.  So we celebrate in Christ’s coming the marriage of divinity and humanity, and of human beings receiving God into their home, their family.  Why does God do all that?  Why does he plan events in this fashion?  In order to invite us into his home, as I said earlier, to take us into his household.  One of the great images of the Sacred Scriptures is that we, God’s people, are his spouse—“your Builder shall marry you,” Isaiah prophesied; St. Paul teaches us, likewise, that Christ loves the Church as a husband loves his wife, and vice versa (cf. Eph 5:21-33), and that we are members of God’s household (Eph 2:19).  God redeems us by flipping the situation, which is ironic.

So today, as we rejoice in the appearance of the Eternal God in the manger at Bethlehem, we meditate upon the significance of that appearance—an appearance that has forever transformed the relationship between our Creator and us, between God and sinners.  “Blessed the people who know the joyful shout,” the psalmist sings tonite (89:16).  More particularly, we the redeemed of Christ, sing, “Blessed are those called to the wedding of the Lamb,” as the Book of Revelation says; “Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to God the Almighty, for the wedding day of the Lamb has come” (cf. Rev 19:7-9).

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