Midnight Mass: The Last Battle

Merry Christmas!  This is the homily I prepared for Midnight Mass this year.  I spent a month thinking about it and relied fairly heavily on Pope Benedict XVI’s writing to put it together, but as I started typing it out, I started losing confidence in it.  We’ll see what you think, and we’ll see how it goes over at Mass…

Chances are, most of us, even if we are unaware of it, are somewhat familiar with the works of the famous British author, C.S. Lewis.  He was certainly a prolific writer, but I would wager a guess that his best-known works are the Chronicles of Narnia – a seven-part fantasy series written for children.  (Well, they say they’re children’s books.  I’m closing in on forty and they still bring joy to my soul.)  Of the Chronicles, the most famous is undoubtedly book 2, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe…but tonight I want to briefly mention something from book 7, The Last Battle.

Without giving too much away – seriously, you should read these on your own – towards the end of the book the protagonist finds himself in a desperate battle being fought near a stable, and eventually his only hope is to throw himself into it – where he finds that it’s nothing like what he expected.  He encounters certain people he never expected to encounter, and one of them – herself a hero from the earlier books – says to him:

“In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

Beautifully, poetically said: but also undeniably true.  What happened – and Who came to be – in that stable was indeed bigger than our whole world, and that is what we celebrate tonight.  There are so many ways that statement is true; let us consider just a few of them tonight.

There was no room for them at the inn.  He who would die what would appear to be a shameful death on a cross outside the city walls would first have to have what would appear to be a shameful birth in a cave outside the city walls.  There is nothing here to give a sense of power or importance or wealth – Jesus is totally outside of the realm of what the world considers powerful.  And yet this unimportant and powerless child will prove to be the truly powerful one, the one of whom ultimately everything depends.  He turned, and continues to turn, the prevailing standards upside down, and shines as the light of truth to enable us to find the right path.

A stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.

Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.  A manger.  Certainly not the cleanest of places, or the most noble – a place where animals eat their food, and it’s not like they’re going to be eating some kind of gourmet meal.  But now, lying in the manger, is he who called himself the true bread come down from heaven, the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves.  This is the food that gives us true life; eternal life.  The manger goes from being a place where animals eat to being nothing less than the table of God, to which we are all invited.

A stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.

Of course, because it was a stable and there was a manger, there were, of course, animals.  What nativity scene doesn’t include an ox and an ass?  They’ve even been written into Christmas hymns.  They were no accident, either.  They were prefigured in many ways – in the prophecies of Habbukuk and Isaiah, for example – but even in the construction of the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark had two statues on it of living creatures – cherubim, most likely – who served to conceal the presence of God.  But in this moment, God is no longer hidden among mankind; rather, he has come to make his dwelling among us and live as we do.  Now the ox and the ass – classic representations of all humanity, made up of Jews and Gentiles – now they no longer conceal God’s presence but they recognize it, and receive it, and begin to see something new.

A stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.

At the end of  The Last Battle, as the main characters explore what lies on the other side of the stable door, they are continually urged to go “Further up, and further in!”  As they do, they encounter a world almost exactly like the one they left behind – except this world seems to be more  real.  Everything is more vibrant, sharper…more like the real thing.  What happened in that fictional stable changed everything for those characters.  What happened in the stable of Bethlehem changed everything for us.  So let us also go further up and further in tonight.  Let us explore the mystery of the stable.  Let us understand what true power is and who wields it; let us be fed with the bread of heaven; and let us recognize our God when He comes and respond with generous hearts in doing His will.

A stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.

It still does.


One thought on “Midnight Mass: The Last Battle

  1. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

    Excellent meditation & outstanding challenge. I hope your Christmas Season is filled with Joy & Hope and some some well deserved Rest!. Give my regards to your family. Happy Christmas!!


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