As I type this homily on November 10 for the celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord on December 25, I am reminded of the Christmas Day sermon preached by Pope Leo the Great when he was Supreme Pontiff between 440-461 A.D called In Nativitate Domini. Naturally the Holy Father was expounding on the two natures of Jesus Christ and the beauty, necessity, and importance of the Incarnation. This was especially necessary in his time with so many heresies challenging the Scriptural and Traditional foundation for the Church’s teaching. 1600 years later nothing has changed. Pope Leo was preaching about celebrating the birth of Christ with great joy and exultation and that “there is no proper place for sadness,” because we keep the “birth of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings us the joy of promised eternity.” He says, “no one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as Our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so He has come to free us all.” Pope St. Leo is saying that Jesus is the Savior of all. He reminds us of Christ’s victory, that the sinner is invited to pardon, to put off our old deeds, and to take courage for we are called to Life. He wanted the people 1600 years ago, and us today, to know our fundamental Christian dignity and from whom we get it.
In the 1980’s, Pope St. John Paul II restored the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ to the papal celebration of Midnight Mass. (It had been removed during the reform of the liturgy.) The Proclamation of the Birth of Jesus Christ is deeply important to proclaim at the Midnight Mass (at least), because it shows that Jesus Christ is the summit of both sacred and secular history. It shows that all time is set by His birth and by no other religious figure – He and He alone – is THE Lord and Savior. All four sets of readings for Christmas point to St Leo’s and St. John Paul II’s theme of the dignity of the human person, the importance and meaning of the Incarnation, and how fundamental and necessary it is to “proclaim” this truth in private and public to the world, with trust and great rejoicing.
At the “Vigil Mass,” Isaiah 62 shows we shall be called by a “new name pronounced by the mouth of God…and that we shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord.” He wants to call us “espoused” and that the Lord “delights” in us, His crowning jewel of Creation. He goes on to say how God rejoices in us and that is why St. Leo is saying: “rejoice for this reason on Christmas Day!” Psalm 89 states that we are God’s chosen ones and that we should be rejoicing in this knowledge of God’s everlasting and unconditional love for us. The Alleluia verse is a prophesy stating that “tomorrow the wickedness of the earth will be destroyed: the Savior of the world will reign over us.” It doesn’t say: “the savior of Christians,” but of the ENTIRE world.
At the “Midnight Mass,” Isaiah 9 stresses that we should have abundant joy, be merry, and have great rejoicing for what the “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, father-Forever, Prince of Peace” has done for us. The Psalmist in Psalm 96 tells us that the earth should be rejoicing because our Savior is born. All this is rooted in the fact from whom and what Christ has redeemed us from: sin, Satan and eternal death. Since we are so dignified and loved by God, that He would send His Son to pay such a high price for us, St. Paul is telling Titus and us to “reject godless ways and worldly desires.” He has made us His own, so be “eager to do what is good.” The Church is always proclaiming this Good News of who God is and who we truly are as Christians. Pope St. Leo did this 1600 years ago, as Pope St. John Paul II did it for 27 years as pope especially in his Theology of the Body catechesis. Christmas isn’t just the celebration of Jesus’s “birthday.” That’s good for children, but for adults it is so much more than that. Proclaim from the rooftops the “good news of Great joy”-the Savior of the world is born.
At the “Mass at Dawn,” Isaiah 62 reminds us of whom we truly: “they shall be called a holy people.” Psalm 97 is all about rejoicing in this fact of who Jesus truly is, what he has done and IS doing for us now, and who we are, His adopted children. The alleluia verse from the “Gloria” shows that doing the will of God will bring us true peace, unless we fight against it or do it begrudgingly. The Gospel of Luke shows that angels of God appear to the lowly and humble shepherds, because they will be the most open to receive the message of God, because they most reflect the Christ child Himself who is lowly and humble. We are to be the same. This indeed gives Glory to God in the Highest.
At the “Mass during the Day,” Isaiah 52 proclaims how beautiful for us to share our Catholic faith with others, not to be imposed upon them, but sharing with them the Good News of Christ. Blessed are your feet that bring “glad tidings” to anyone announcing peace and salvation. Why not share it? Are you afraid of rejection, being ridiculed? Why worry or fear? “The Lord comforts His people.” Psalm 98 is all about singing and giving praise for the victory Christ has won on our behalf. In the great and powerful “prologue” of St. John it says: to those who did accept Him He gave power to become children of God.” Jesus did not redeem us just to purchase for us a “get out of jail free card.” He redeemed us, ransomed us, freed us from Satan’s power, due to original sin, not so that we remain enslaved in personal sin, but that we become holy and truly great sons and daughters of the Father. Be glad and rejoice in the Birth of the Savior of the world. Have a Blessed Christmas Season. Amen.
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.