Homily for Christmas Eve

You can access the readings for the Christmas Vigil Mass here.

NB:  As usual, these are my prepared remarks for my homily, but I often tend to go off on a tangent, so these may differ from what I actually said (or didn’t say).

When it comes to Christmas, you’re in one of two camps. Perhaps you’re like me:  you like Christmas, you have Christmas spirit, but you find it ridiculous that the radio stations start playing Christmas music the day after thanksgiving, only to stop playing it the day after Christmas.  I mean, it’s just totally backwards.  Play some Advent music, at least.  The Christmas season only starts with Christmas Day; play the Christmas music for at least the week between Christmas and New Year’s!

Or you belong to camp 2. You’re one of the people that live for non-stop Christmas music on the radio.  If you had it your way, you’d have Christmas music playing all year.  My mother is one of you people.  You probably all love those really cheesy Christmas movies they play on the Hallmark Channel, too.  We won’t get into that.

Look, I’m not saying I hate Christmas music, I just don’t want to get fatigued from it. I think my biggest complaint is that I rarely get to hear my favorite Christmas song.  It’s a traditional Irish piece from the 12th century called the Wexford Carol.  Look up the Celtic Woman version on YouTube; you’ll thank me later.  The religiously-themed song I have the most trouble with is very popular these days: Mary, Did you Know?  (And if you haven’t heard the version of that that Pentatonix did, you’ve been living under a rock; YouTube that one as well.)  My biggest complaint is this:  Yes, she did know!  The angel told her!  It’s a silly question!  And since I’m ranting and raving, why doesn’t St. Joseph get any songs about him?

Because aside from Jesus, he’s the main character in the Gospel we just heard.

And while it’s true, we can learn an awful lot about Christmas from Mary, we can learn just as much from Joseph. There are three major pieces that stand out.

The first is this. The Gospel describes Joseph as being a righteous man.  Some translations call him a just man.  That’s a poor translation of the Hebrew word zaddik; poor, because we don’t have a word-for-word equivalent.  Essentially, it boils down to this:  a zaddik, a righteous man, a just man, is someone who places their trust entirely in the Lord.  It’s someone who knows what the law of the Lord is, and seeks to live it out.  Someone who sees the Law not as something burdensome, but as something there for his benefit; something that will help him maintain holiness.  And above all, this is a person who has a deep relationship with the Lord.  Think about it:  If Joseph had not been a man of prayer and a man of communion with God, how would he ever have been able to make sense of the angel’s apparition to him in a dream?  How many of us would break at the sight of that?  Yet the angel tells Joseph to not be afraid – and he has no fear, because he knows the Lord his God is with Him.

If you want to learn how to celebrate Christmas well, forge a deep relationship with God. Spend time reading and meditating on the Scriptures.  Spend more time talking to Him in prayer.  Be just.  Be righteous.  Be a zaddik.

The second thing we learn from Joseph is how to be royal. The angel greets Joseph by calling him, Joseph, son of David…but Joseph’s father was named Eli.  The angel is going way back in Joseph’s family to get to David, one of the greatest kings of Israel.  Now, to Joseph, this must have really seemed like something.  Whatever this messenger is going to ask him to do, it must be this great thing, because it seems he will need to be like David to do it.  Maybe he will be called to defeat the Romans and restore the kingship to Israel.  Maybe he himself will be the king.  Maybe he will soon enjoy power and prestige.  Instead, the angel tells him not to be afraid and to take Mary into his home; and to name the son that she is carrying Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Certainly, not what Joseph was expecting to hear. Where’s the power and the prestige and the glory?  Where’s the kingship?  But there’s real power to be had here.  This child will forgive sins; something ordinarily reserved to God alone.  And it’s important.  Humans, by their nature, are relational beings; but none of our relationships will work out, or even make sense, if our fundamental relationship with God is broken.  The kingly task of David’s line, of which Joseph is a part, is to lead people back to God, so that they can work to build up His kingdom here on Earth.

If you want to learn how to celebrate Christmas well, be a royal. Lead people, by your words and actions, to know God.

The final thing that we can learn from Joseph is what he says. Now, if you were paying close attention – and of course you were – you noticed that Joseph didn’t say a single word in the Gospel.  And, in fact, if you go through all 4 Gospels, you’ll never find an instance of him speaking.  That always struck me as being a little odd – nothing he said was worthy of being recorded for posterity?  But the more I think about it, the more I think it makes a certain amount of sense.  From the moment Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, his life begins to change – and, for the most part, in ways he never imagined.  The angel appears to him; the child, he learns, is conceived by the Holy Spirit; choirs of angels appear; shepherds adore; wise men from the east bring tribute.  He must take the babe and his wife and flee to Egypt; later to return, and watch over and raise this child like his own son.  Every time he looks at the boy, he’s looking at a Mystery – the Mystery of God’s ineffable love for His people made Incarnate.  What do you say about that?  What do you say to that?  How about nothing?  What could you say to that?  How could you add to it?  How could you explain it?  Maybe you don’t; maybe you just live it.

If you want to learn how to celebrate Christmas well, be quiet.  Remind yourself that you are in the presence of God, and consider well and bear in mind all the love He has shown you in every moment of your life.  Realize His glory and His greatness and His mercy, and just simply be in His presence and let in transform you.

This Christmas, be righteous.  Be royal.  Be quiet.

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