Homily of the month
Certain images inspire wonder. In the nativity scene we have such an image: a serene new mother, a concerned father, and a vulnerable newborn child. This scene is an invitation and a promise, writes Tom McGrath in PREPARE THE WORD'S featured homily for Christmas.
PREPARE THE WORD's library includes insightful sample homilies for funerals, sacraments, holy and feast days, and special occasions. We regularly add new homilies to the mix. Feel free to submit a homily you've written or from someone on your parish preaching team that you want to offer for consideration. Send homilies to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holy days/feasts: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas): Mass at Midnight
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
CERTAIN IMAGES inspire wonder. They’re powerful beyond the simple contents of the scene. Think of the photo of the New York firefighters planting a tattered flag in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers. That image is likely to touch every heart. Certain images are powerful because they speak to a deeper place in us than words alone can do.
In the nativity scene we have such an image: a serene new mother, a concerned father, and a vulnerable newborn child. Beleaguered travelers, they’re forced to take refuge in a stable, and the child is lain in a manger—a food trough. Their rude surroundings leave them barely protected from the elements, open to any and all who come their way.
And many come their way: shepherds, townspeople, angels, and kings. They come to see what there is to see. And we come here on this special occasion, to celebrate this birth, and to give our attention over to this scene of the child in the manger, the one who becomes bread for us all, the one who inspires wonder.
Why do the angels sing? Why have the magi traveled so far to lay their gifts before this child? Why do the townspeople gather and the shepherds bow? What is going on in this mother’s heart? This father’s worried dreams?
There are many ways to respond to wonder. Jesus encountered them all in his public ministry. Some people would marvel at his works, but that’s all they would do, marvel. “Oh, my! Did you see that! Wasn’t that something?” and they would go on with their lives unchanged. And there were some who wanted Jesus to perform wonders for their entertainment as you’d get a dog to jump through a hoop. They wanted “wonders on demand.” And then there were those who viewed the working of wonders as a kind of litmus test to tell who has God’s favor. If you make some magic for us, then you must be OK. If you can’t or won’t, you must not be worth listening to.
Jesus knew that the purpose of wonder is to open our hearts. It’s to help us to see that there is more to life than we have come to expect. There are, coursing through human life, elements of the divine."
Jesus knew that the purpose of wonder is to open our hearts. It’s to help us to see that there is more to life than we have come to expect. There are, coursing through human life, elements of the divine.
Why does this particular scene inspire wonder? It’s because we have two realities captured in this one human moment. Luke tells us, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And we hear in John’s gospel, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” We have on the one hand a very mundane and earthy reality—a vulnerable child in poor circumstances. And yet this same child of poverty is also the Word who was with God from all time and who indeed is God. What is the appropriate response to wonder? It is to do as the shepherds did and fall on our knees. To do as the kings did and lay our gifts before him. To give all our attention and to open our hearts. To stand wordless before this scene of wonder and let the truth of it seep into us, our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our souls.
This scene is an invitation and a promise. The invitation is to leave our pursuit of mastery behind and instead enter into mystery. To be as vulnerable as this child and these parents. To be as open as these shepherds and as generous of heart as these kings. To praise like the angels and pay attention like the townspeople.
The resulting promise is that we will meet God. We will discover not only that Jesus is God, but that we, too, can share in God’s life—not only in the afterlife, but right here and right now.
And so here's my invitation to you in days to come. It’s an invitation I hope to take up myself. It’s an invitation to holiness.
• Open your heart to the wonder of this scene in the manger.
• Pray daily, perhaps before each meal with your family or friends.
• Nurture your relationship with Jesus by paying attention to his presence in your day.
• Read the gospels.
• Worship weekly.
• Avoid demanding signs from God and observe the many that are right before you. Pray, “Lord, give me the eyes to see you at work in my life.” And then start looking around. Love the people you encounter each day. Use your talents for the good of the world. Say a prayer of gratitude.
Let us not squander this moment of wonder.