(Don’s note: It was a privilege to meet the priest who recently conducted a beautiful, wonderful, worshipful marriage ceremony for Morgan, the daughter of our friends Joyce and Bill Miller. He and I talked for a while after the wedding and have corresponded several times since. In my opinion, we’re forming a somewhat unusual friendship. I shared an idea I’d posted earlier on this site ~ “Ever Think About It This Way.” What had prompted my thinking on that subject was when I tried to consider how “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us, And how the Apostle Paul said that even though Christ was “in the form of God, He took upon himself the form of man.” My new friend, the Priest, picked up on it, and look below at what happened next. With his permission, I’m posting Father David Noone’s Christmas homily for his parish. What an unlikely but welcome sharing between a Catholic priest and his new friend! who just happens to be an ordained Southern Baptist minister.)
If there is anything that truly symbolizes Christmas, other than the baby in the manger, it’s the Christmas gift…..something all wrapped up in colorful Christmas paper, usually with a bow on top….like this box right here….
And the reason why this box is here is to remind me that I have a gift for you this Christmas and the gift I have for you isn’t something
or a toy
or a game
or a book
or something that you can wear or eat
or something for your home or office…
Instead, it’s something that you need more than all those things and I know that to be true for you because it’s true for me.
And, the gift I have for you this Christmas is words…
which people refer to as “The Twelve Words of Christmas”
and those words are:
‘TODAY IS BORN FOR YOU A SAVIOR WHO IS CHRIST THE LORD.”
Let me repeat them:
“TODAY IS BORN FOR YOU A SAVIOR WHO IS CHRIST THE LORD.”
And, those twelve words are the best Christmas gift you could or will ever receive.
This past October I officiated at a wedding in Raleigh, N.C. and one of the other invited guests was a retired Baptist minister by the name of Don Kimrey. Don and I connected in the parking lot after the ceremony and somehow the conversation got around to Christmas and he told me that he had been thinking about a new way of understanding the birth of Jesus, which we call the mystery of the Incarnation.
He began by talking about the atom and what happened when scientists learned how to split the atom….all the power and energy that splitting the atom had released…. a power that was first used to inflict more damage and death than had ever been inflicted in the entire history of the human race but how since then that energy has also been used in ways that have greatly benefited the human race.
But, my new minister friend said that he had begun thinking about the Incarnation as having been just the opposite of the splitting of the atom.
That rather than it being an “explosion,” it had been something more along the lines of an “implosion,” a drawing inward rather than an exploding outward.
That what really happened in the Incarnation was that the great God of the universe:
the Creator of the heavens
the designer and maker of the earth
the One who formed the light
and created the darkness
took everything that he is…
all his power
all his intelligence
all his wisdom
all his creative ability
all his healing energy
all his compassion
all his concern for us
all his LOVE
and his desire for us to be so much more than we are
and placed it or “incarnated” it in a single human person…
and sent him to live among us.
In other words, everything that God ever
or ever will be
and everything that God has to give us he put into one person, Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth in Bethlehem we celebrate tonight….
And what that means is that….
the truth about God
and everything you and I need to know about God
and about God’s love for us
and everything you and I need to know about ourselves
and about others and the way we are to love them
and about life
and about how we are to live and not live
and about what makes us truly human or less than human
and about where we have come from and where we are going
everything we need to know can be found in Jesus.
And, this is not information that you’re going to find anyplace else…
you’re not going to find it on anyone’s Facebook page
or by Googling
or by researching Wikipedia
and it’s why the angel used the word “Savior” to describe the birth of the baby in Bethlehem
“Today is born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
And why did God give us this gift?
All throughout Advent, as you drove along Maria Drive or pulled into church, you’ve seen the banner that sits adjacent to the roadway. The words on the left hand side of that banner read, “God so loved the world that he sent his son” and that says it all. The birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus was a gift of pure love…God’s love for us….and throughout Advent I’ve been suggesting that this gift of God’s very self to us, his person in Jesus, demands a response…. not out of any sense of obligation but out of a sense of appreciation, which is why the right hand side of that banner reads, “What gift will you give God this Christmas?” because I wanted to get you thinking about that for Christmas and I used the Advent scriptures to suggest some gift possibilities.
On the first Sunday of Advent I suggested that maybe what God wants from some of us is a greater awareness of his presence in our lives, a bit more of our time given over to developing a deeper relationship with him
On the second Sunday of Advent, when John the Baptist was calling us to repentance, I suggested that maybe there is something in our lives that God would like to see us eliminate, not for his sake but for ours, so that we might enjoy richer more meaningful lives and a pledge to work on that might be our Christmas gift to him.
On the third Sunday, I focused on the ministries of Isaiah the prophet, the apostle James and, again, John the Baptist, each of whom, in the words of Mother Teresa, did “something beautiful for God” and suggested that maybe there is some service God is looking for us to do, some ministry he’d like us to engage in.
On the last weekend in Advent, in light of the gospel story that focused on Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her great faith, Bishop Hubbard, who was here for a baptism, suggested that one of the greatest gifts we can give God is the gift of sharing our faith with others.
And, then, throughout Advent, I’ve been telling you that when you came to church on Christmas I’d ask you to bring your gift with you and identify it by writing it on one of these little strips of paper which would then be collected and placed on or under our giving trees.
So, if you didn’t pick one of those slips up during Advent there is one in the bulletin you received when you came into church and, if you’re ready to do this, I’m going to ask you right now to write the nature of your gift, whatever it is, on that little slip and then draw it up into a circle and stick the two ends together by licking the end that has the glue. There are pencils in all the pews, behind or under the hymn books. (If you want you can link it with the strip of the person you came with or as a family and form a paper chain.) Show examples.
I know that some of you weren’t here during Advent but maybe you’ve heard enough by way of an explanation and have enough desire to think of something that you might want to give God for Christmas.
This past Sunday, three or four parishioners who weren’t going to be in town for Christmas, gave me their completed strips representing their Christmas gifts to God….one read: “My gift is to watch what I say;” another read, “ “Stop interrupting people when they are talking,” and the third read, “I’m giving God all my fears so that he can turn them into confidence.” And the last one read, “My gift to God will be a renewed effort to be more honest with people.”
I can’t help but think that God appreciates the sincerity of all of these gifts, including yours.
As you drive around town and look at the decorations on people’s lawns there are very few manger scenes which could lead you to conclude that Santa, reindeer and snowmen are the gift of Christmas, but don’t be fooled. The gift of Christmas is one person and twelve words, “Today is born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” You’ve heard it before but I wanted you to hear it again tonight.
Father David Noone
Diocese of Albany, New York