The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) - Mass During the Day
Reading 1 IS 52:7-10
Reading 2 HEB 1:1-6
Homily for Nativity on The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) - Mass During the Night 12/25/2019
Once again, I’d just like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Thanks for being here to celebrate Christ’s Birthday Mass. I’d like to welcome any visitors or guests who are here, thanks for celebrating with us, but there isn’t a better place, I mean we are the Church of the Nativity after all!
Thanks and welcome also to those that are listening on the radio, we will be doing our best to avoid any radio silence! This is my first Christmas at the Church of the Nativity, in case you are visiting (or listening in) my name is Fr. Andy Upah and I just became the pastor here in July.
I feel really blessed to be here, there are many great people here and the Church is really beautiful and helps to draw us into the heavenly mysteries. It’s enormous, but it speaks to the importance of what is going on here.
I’ve been looking forward to this day, celebrating Christ’s Mass at Nativity, it’s not only one of the biggest days of the Church year, but it is what our Church is named after, which makes it even more special of a celebration for our community.
Late the other night, I came over to make sure the doors were locked, but since I was over here I decided to take a bit of time to pray.
It was pitch black dark in here and I sat down in the front row there to pray, slowly my eyes adjusted to the surroundings. I spent some time looking at this south window over there which was illuminated by the lights outside.
Then I had the realization that I hadn’t seen what the Christmas tree looked like lit up, (it got put up the other day when I wasn’t here,) so I went up and plugged it in. It lit up the whole place by itself!
After walking around the church looking at the tree from the various angles you all see it from, I went and sat down on the Altar Server’s bench over there.
It’s an interesting spot from over there, I mean I was focused on the tree, it kind of commands attention, even moreso in the dark, but I was also looking at the angels in the brick, then I’ve got Jesus on the cross in the background, the tabernacle right in front of me, and probably the largest altar in the state of Iowa to my right.
And as I sat there, I realized the Christmas tree was missing something... It’s missing presents. I mean, growing up, almost as soon as the tree went up in my house there were presents underneath it. Presents are a big part of Christmas. Like most people, I like to receive good presents, but even more I enjoy giving good presents.
A good present to me is something that they will use frequently, or when they see it they are reminded of me! I mean, that’s how I am with presents, when someone gives me something that I use or see often, I think of the person who gave it to me, and maybe even at that point I thank God for that person and for our friendship.
I like to give good presents for that same reason, hopefully it will be enjoyed and that person will think of me and pray for me in the process.
So as I was looking at this tree and its lack of presents, I glanced over at the tabernacle. Now, I’ve been told that this particular tabernacle is supposed to look like a pillar of fire, and I’ll be honest, usually all I see is a really big box.
And definitely in that moment, what I saw was a box that deserved to be wrapped in the best Christmas wrapping paper with a really big bow on it.
If I didn’t feel like it would be sacrilege, I would probably at least climb up it and put a bow on it, because it hit me in that moment, there is the present “under” the tree, there is Jesus, “God with us.”
Jesus, “God with us,” is the reason for the season, the reason we celebrate, the best present we could ever imagine and deserving of the biggest bow ever.
Having “God with us” changes everything. It changed everything for Mary and Joseph. It changed everything for those shepherds that night. It changed everything for the people who saw Jesus preaching, teaching, and healing nearly 2,000 years ago. It even changed everything for me, just 12 years ago.
I was working as a software consultant in West Des Moines, great job, great friends, great life… but because I heard Catholic teaching articulated well for what seemed like the first time at age 26, I realized God wasn’t just a concept, I realized that God is real, that He loves us and wants a relationship with us.
I realized that He is with us all of the time, and especially He is present in the Eucharist, in this tabernacle and in all the tabernacles of the world, and it forced me to take my faith seriously, to begin to really pray and make Mass a priority in my life, not just on Sunday’s.
Realizing that “God is still with us” was the greatest present ever for me, and as I began to understand His presence more and more in my life, it changed everything for me, I began to feel the call to priesthood, and eventually I quit my job to enter seminary.
God is always with us, but it is easy to take that for granted. It’s like what happens with so many Christmas presents, we forget about them, we get busy with something else and we forget so quickly.
But everything we do here, in the architecture and in the Mass, is directed at remembering this great present from God. For instance, that whole set of windows there on the South side is meant to depict Bethlehem on the night of the Nativity. It’s difficult to see with the lights on inside, but the biggest star in the sky is right in the middle, top center left, and the city is all around, with lots of other smaller stars shining in the night sky.
So every time we walk into Mass from the parking lot side, we are walking back into Bethlehem, into the Nativity scene.
Then we have the Angels in the brick, the nine choirs of Angels who are part of the heavenly host which would have been singing “Glory to God in the highest” to the shepherds that night Jesus was born.
But the birth of Jesus isn’t the entire focus here, because the birth is only relevant with the death and resurrection, that is when Jesus truly saved us.
So behind me we have the crucifix, and then those three windows on the North side represent the Triduum: Holy Thursday and the Last Supper in the far one, Good Friday and the crucifixion in the middle, and Easter Sunday and the Resurrection in nearest set.
And even though Jesus ascended to heaven and is no longer present in human form, He is still present to us physically, in the tabernacle, “God with us.” I said the word at the beginning of Mass, and we will say it again in the Nicene Creed in a few minutes, incarnation, incarnate - it means “to become flesh.”
You probably know the root word from going to Mexican restaurants, “carne asada,” “carne” means flesh. This is so important that during Mass, when we recite the Nicene Creed, the Church asks us to bow at the words, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became Man.”
But on Christmas, the Church asks us all to kneel at those 14 words, because today we celebrate God’s incarnation, that God became man in Bethlehem just over 2,000 years ago.
God became flesh, incarnate, in a miraculous way, and in an almost equally miraculous way, simple bread and wine become His body and blood for us on this Altar at every Mass, so He can be “God with us” always.
To show this even more pointedly, the Gospel says, Mary “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger...” And the Angel repeated it to the shepherds, “you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
A manger is what the animals: cows, sheep, and goats, would eat from. Jesus, God incarnate, has become our food, the bread of life, the food of immortality, it is through Jesus we are saved, He is the savior born for us on this day.
Jesus wasn’t only in Israel for 33 years, His true presence, “God with us” is still here today, in this tabernacle, and soon to be made incarnate again on the Altar, this is why we celebrate His birth.*
God loves us so much that He became man to dwell with us on Earth, to be present to us, to live with us, to die for us, and to rise so that we can forever be restored in the love of God the Father, and to remain with us forever.
Has this reality of “God with us” changed everything for you?
I would challenge everyone to put aside some time and pray about that question. Has Jesus’s becoming one of us in the incarnation, the fact that God became man, has that changed your life?
Jesus is waiting to do amazing things in your life, but He’s waiting for your permission to do so. He gives us free will and doesn’t force His presence on us, like any present, we must accept it.
I pray that we would not take this present for granted, the present of His true presence, active and available in every Catholic Church around the world, and that we would allow God’s presence in our lives to fill us with the same joy that it filled the shepherds with over two thousand years ago.