Homily on the Readings for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Mass During the Night)
by CPF Co-founder Deacon Tom Cornell

Is 9, 1-6/Ps 96/Ti 2, 11-14/Lk 2, 1-14

In all world literature there are no words that move us to joy as much as today’s readings. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” I hear the words as sung in Handel’s Messiah or in Charlie Brown’s Christmas, words embedded in our collective memory.

Joseph looked anxiously to see – is he all right? Five fingers on each hand, yes! Ten toes in all, yes! A perfect baby boy! Fathers can’t help but feel a burst of pride and gratitude at the sight. God had entrusted it to him to protect and provide for this mother and this, his only begotten son. He gave thanks, to God, first of all, and then to the mother Mary who had borne the child. She smiled, supremely happy; labor had been easy. Her pain will come later. Joseph cleaned the baby. Together they wrapped him in swaddling clothes, bands of cloth to keep an infant’s arms and legs from flailing, and then they laid him in the animals’ feeding trough, a manger for a crib. Joseph recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin shall be with child and bear a son and shall name him Immanuel, that is God with us” (Is 7, 14).

An angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds in fields nearby proclaiming tidings of great joy for all the people. “This day in David’s city a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord.” And suddenly a multitude of the heavenly host appeared praising God, chanting, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those of goodwill.”

Isaiah had prophesied, “He will be called Prince of peace” and “his kingdom will be vast and peaceful” (Is 9, 5-6). Peace, shalom. The Hebrew word signifies more than an absence of war or strife. It means tranquility based in right order, in justice, to be perfectly achieved in the fullness of time in the kingdom of God that is to come. But it is here and now too in a sense, for Jesus himself is our peace. “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14, 27).

Remember the words of the Christmas Proclamation read at the beginning of Mass, “In the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Augustus, the whole world being at peace….” The Pax Romana, the Roman peace, was one of the greatest political achievements in the history of the world. Without it Saint Paul would never have been able to travel; Christianity would have remained a small Jewish sect. But the Pax Romana was a peace based upon violence, peace as the world gives, not the peace of Christ. The son of God was born into this world, emptied of his divine prerogatives, a man like any other. Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King’s right-hand man, not known for his piety, once rose in Quaker Meeting to say, “Only the blood of Christ can save the world.”

We might say, “Only the blood of Christ has saved the world.” At the Incarnation, Jesus breached the wall between time and eternity. On the Cross Jesus begged the Father, “Forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23, 34). Not justice, forgiveness he asked. Without forgiveness, fear of enemies will doom us. “Love your enemies,” he commanded us. Love casts out fear.

The Holy See had twice warned the United Nations that there is no longer any legal or moral justification for the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons. Pope Francis’ ambassador to the U.N., Archbishop Silvio Tomasi, had this to say at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons: “The consistent position of the Vatican has been against atomic weapons. From the very beginning, from John XXIII in Pacem in Terris (1963) onward, there has been a consistent line opposing the use, the possession, the development of nuclear weapons. During the ’80s, especially during the cold war, the use of deterrence was accepted as a condition for avoiding worst results, but not as a value in itself. …So we go back to the principle that the possession and use of atomic weapons is not at all acceptable” (document dated 7 Dec. 2014).

How many Catholics know this? How many have heard this preached from the pulpit? Not many! That is one reason why we need our Catholic Peace Fellowship. Is it possible to avoid the conclusion that the least we can demand of our government is unilateral initiatives for nuclear disarmament?

However many generations may succeed us, if any, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” for Christ has given us his peace. Christ is our peace. Be not afraid. God is with us, Emmanuel. And Merry Christmas to each and every one! Ω

Christmas A.D. 2014