Homily by Fr. Joel Macul, Midnight Mass - 2018
In 2005 National Geographic launched its genographic project. You participated by submitting a sample of your DNA. When it was analyzed you could see how your ancestry followed the movements of humanity in the world; it traced an ancestral journey as it were, taking for granted that humanity began somewhere in today’s East Africa. I have to say the results can prove quite interesting, even surprising. It is a sort of roots project using your DNA. There is one journey for your mother and another for your father. The goal: to find out your ancestors and what part of humanity is in your DNA make up.
Well, today’s feast is about our human DNA. We could say it is about the completion of a DNA search. It will not be found under a microscope; it will be found through the eyes of faith. But what is found will be no less real. Today we acknowledge and celebrate that part of our human DNA, part of what makes up the essence of our humanity is the stuff of the divine. We acknowledge that our DNA has more than merely a trace of God in it; God has become a substantial and necessary component of the human person, the human story. We call that divine DNA trace the Spirit, the divine breath. It was there from the beginning. Today we acknowledge and marvel that we can see this divine DNA as it were face to face in a human being whom the angel announced to us as Savior, Lord and Christ. The Divine DNA has met the human DNA and been born today as one like us in all things but our sin. No sin, because our original DNA, our ancestry, does not lie in sin but in grace and love.
All of Advent we have been calling out “Come”! What we know about the one who is to come is that he concerns justice. We call out for someone to come who will make the world right again. We have been looking for and waiting for someone who can restore harmony among us human beings; we call out for someone who can remind us that harmony among ourselves means harmony with the earth, with the water, with the clouds, with other living creatures. We have kept before us this Advent the images of those who beat swords into ploughshares and children who can play with snakes and lions who will let a child pet them. The DNA of that picture is not false; it lies deep within us and our imagination because that world is part of who we are and what we want our world to be.
We have given this coming one grand names tonight: Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. It looks like we expect a warrior to come and conquer the enemy and put things in order. But tonight, when God hears our cry for help in our distress, what does he give us: a baby, a new-born, an infant barely big enough to hold. Our pain is great, our wounds are festering, the enemy surrounds us, we feel overwhelmed, helpless even, worn out; we are in the dark, as the prophet says. And what does God send out into the dark cloak of night? A baby—a picture of innocence perhaps; certainly a picture of vulnerability, of total dependence, of weakness. But that is what the prophet calls our attention to: “a son has been born for us.” Or as the gospel describes it, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. But the angel makes it clear, in the baby lies the Savior, the Lord and the Christ---all that we have been waiting for and calling out to come, come!
God is full of surprises. No one can deny that we are desperate in our broken world and embittered humanity; it looks like we have lost the means to even speak words to one another. We rightfully call out and God hears. But his answer is on his terms not ours. After all, if it were on our terms, we would control it and be no better off than before. But tonight it is all grace, all gift. We think of might or power, of empire like that of Rome into which Jesus is born, or of some great country. That is what we need, so we might think. But what God gives is different. A child is held out to us. Not exactly the image of strength and victory; not a leader. But this is God’s child and God’s child will conquer through weakness; he will touch what is weak and find blessedness in what is lowly. He will bring justice by becoming the victim of injustice on a cross. But that is the surprise hidden in this child. He will conquer human pride, not by arrogance, but by humility and truth.
What is the surprise in this grace that appears to us this night? Is it perhaps that when I look at any human being, I am looking at someone who is made in the image and likeness of God? A light dawns in me and I realize that the other before me shares with me the same human flesh and the same divine Spirit from the creator God. Is that the surprise? Or is it that when I see a picture of a child standing at my country’s border looking frightened and lost, I suddenly become aware that I am looking at God’s own Son found in anyone really who is hungry, thirsty and without an inn in which to rest? ….Perhaps it is easy to believe in a God who creates the world with all its beauty. But maybe it is more difficult to believe that our God has embraced the world by becoming human in it, not in imagination or dream or some virtual reality but in flesh.
The surprise of Christmas, the grace of Christmas, is that the human person and the human family is of unsurpassable worth and value. To make sure that we realize that, God has joined our race and embraced its story as his own. He has become one with us humans to make sure that no one takes our graced dignity away from us. He has come to give us the story of his life so that we can be certain that any other story than the one he will live is incomplete. He joins us tonight so that we will learn how to be human. He will teach us that the essence of being human is to love, to love others even when their face is marred, scarred by violence and disfigured beyond human. To be human, he will say, is to stop and meet the other where they are on their journey.
Christmas is also about the birth of the first-born. It is clearly said Mary lays her first- born in a manager. Christ is beginning a new humanity; he is first. That is what the angels are singing about. If he is first-born, then where are those who are born after him? Perhaps that is you and I. That old insight is true: Unless Christ is born in you and me, then he is not born in Bethlehem either. Tonight’s birth is not for Christ alone, it is for you and me and all others that share with us a human face.
Tonight God has given us the grace of being able to see his face in that of his Son because it is of our flesh. We say yes to this grace when we turn to another human being and see there also the face of God reflected in that person, the person for whom God’s son identified with and gave his life. When we can see that face in others and approach in humility, then Bethlehem is not yesterday but today.