Homily for 24th December 2020 (Christmas Eve)
Theme: The Nativity of the Lord
By: Fr. Jude Chijioke
Homily for Thursday December 24 2020
Readings: Isaiah 9: 1-3.5-6; Titus 2,11-14; Luke 2: 1-14
“In those days, a decree of Caesar Augustus ordered that the census of the whole earth be made. This first census was made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. They all went to be registered, each in his city. Even Joseph, who was of the house and family of David, from the city of Nazareth and Galilee went up to Judea to the city of David, called Bethlehem, to be registered with Mary, his wife, who was pregnant.
Now, while they were in that place, the days of childbirth were reached. She gave birth to her first-born son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn “(Lk 2).
In this glorious celebration of the Lord, we will keep before us the Lucan Gospel story that the liturgy proposes for the Mass of the night. We will stop only on two apparently external elements of that narration, time and space. The latter is that of Bethlehem, “the city of David”. Jesus comes to us from the human, physical and spiritual space of the Davidic promise. It is for this reason that in some documents of Christian art, not only the terrestrial Jerusalem is opposed to the celestial one, but also the terrestrial Bethlehem to that of heaven. From Bethlehem, in fact, humanity is assumed in God.
In the space of Bethlehem, attention is fixed on two topographical points. The first is that of the birth of Jesus in a manger for animals probably carved into the rock because the hotel had no room for the Lord of space. The Christian tradition, supported by Jerome who will live in Bethlehem for decades, will speak of a cave like those adjacent to poor Palestinian houses. John was born in his father’s priestly house, Christ is born in the marginalization, without a pillow.
Yet in Luke’s story there is a detail emphasized with insistence and tenderness: Mary “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in the manger”. Of the Baptist it is said only: “For Elizabeth it was time to give birth and she gave birth to a son” (Lk 1, 57). Around that cave, at that point in the space of Bethlehem, a solemn Byzantine basilica now stands intact because it was never destroyed, unlike other Christian churches in Palestine since it was dedicated to Mary.
The other topographical point is parallel to the first, it is the “camp of the shepherds”, the surrounding countryside crossed by semi-nomads. These are two temporary residences, two miserable places, two signs of daily misery that later became the center of cosmic hope. The Greek inscription of Priene is famous which announces the gospel of the birth of Augustus inscribed in marbles, a good news for the whole world; Luke contrasts this with the one proclaimed in a manger and among nomads: “I announce a great joy that will be for all the people: today he was born there a savior”. The first “gospel” will soon generate bad news of oppression, taxes, wars, slavery; the gospel “of Christ is” liberation to prisoners, a happy message to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed “(Lk 4:18).
There is also a precise time when Christ is born. It is marked by the hours of the emperor Augustus (31 BC-14 AD) and is specified by Luke with the indication of the “first census” ordered by the legate of Syria Quirinius. Luke locates Jesus within the plot of history with his large and small events. And the Roman census, a sign of slavery, reminds us that Christ is born of an oppressed, poor and those considered insignificant and projects for slavery.
There is a second time indicated by the evangelist and it is that of the night. The darkness becomes an evident symbol: in it, man alone does not find the goal, only a revelation is possible so that its light may pierce the darkness. The rabbinic tradition distinguished four fundamental nights of divine revelation. The first was that of creation when the darkness was swept away by the word of God: “Let there be light!” (Gn 1, 3). The second night was that of the covenant with Abraham: “While the sun was setting, and it was getting dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces, on that day the Lord concluded the covenant with Abram saying, to your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates” (Gn 15,17-18). The third night is that of the exodus liberation, the night of Easter, the night of freedom (Ex 12). The fourth and last night will be that of the messiah, a night after which there will no longer be night but a perennial light, a continuous day: “it will be a unique day, a day known only to the Lord, there will be no distinction between day and night, when evening comes, there will be light “(Zc 14, 7).
This is the night we now celebrate, a night won forever by the light of Christ. The Eastern liturgy sings for the Lord’s Nativity: “The author of life was born in our flesh from the mother of the living. With its swaddling clothes it loosens the bonds of our sins and forever dries the tears of our mothers. Dance and leap, creation of the Lord, for your Savior was born. The grotto is the sky, the manger is the throne of the cherubs!”.
-Fr. Jude Chijioke