Thursday, December 25, 2014

'Who do you say that I am?' (Christmas homily)

When Moses brought God’s People out of slavery in Egypt, 
he led them to Mount Sinai, where he made a covenant with them. 
After witnessing many signs of God’s power – 
the ten plagues bringing God’s judgment on Egypt, 
and the destruction of Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea – 
they heard God speak to them; 
they saw his glory envelop the mountain.

After this, you will recall, 
Moses went up the mountain for 40 days, 
during which time God further revealed himself to Moses.

Do you recall what happened in the meantime? 
The book of Exodus says that when the people saw 
that Moses was delayed in coming down the mountain, 
they came to Aaron and said, 
“Come, make us a god who will go before us.”

When Aaron had done so, he said, 
“Behold your gods, O Israel, 
who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

Why did they do this? 
After what they had experienced, and witnessed with their own eyes, 
why would they turn from the God of heaven and earth, 
to a god made of gold?

Something similar happens when people wrestle with the Catholic Faith. 
Some of you know that while I was raised Catholic, 
when I was in college, I left the Catholic Church 
and joined an Evangelical church. 
I’d had a powerful experience 
and thought that was the right thing to do. 
Over the next ten years, I wrestled with that decision, 
and all the objections I thought I had to the Catholic Faith, 
before – of course – returning to the Faith.

What held me back from returning is what often, 
I think, holds others back. 
Even though we feel something powerful tugging at us, 
we draw back, because that last step is perilous. 
It’s one thing to do as I did, as a college student: 
to read and study and debate; 
when people go around from place to place, 
sampling different churches and spiritualities, that can be nice. 
We set the pace, we’re in control. There’s a certain safety.

But when we come up against not ideas about God, but God himself? 
Not a story, but a Someone, who we not only talk to, 
but who talks back, and expects things of us?

Then all bets are off. Anything can happen. 
God might ask anything; and how can we refuse? 
How can we turn away?
That is why God’s people preferr a god they fashion with their hands 
to the God who spoke from the mountain.  
A god that is safe. Tamed.

The same thing happens with Christmas. 
What is Christmas about? 
What have we heard for two solid months?

Peace. Family. Being together. Good feelings. And, “love”—
whatever that may mean. 
Oh yes. A child. Yes, a child was born. 
In humble surroundings. Out in the cold.
All that’s true, but is that all?
Children are born in the cold every day. Lots of them.
Why this child? 
That recalls the rest of the story. And that’s not so…safe.

A child who would grow up and say things like: 
“You heard Moses say, but rather, I say…”; 
“Rise up and walk”; “He who sees me, sees the Father”; 
“No one can come to the Father, except through Me.” 
“If you would be my disciple, take up your cross and come after me”; 
“The Son of Man will be betrayed, and crucified, and killed – 
and raised up on the third day”; 
and, “It is finished!”

This is that child. 
A child who Mary and Joseph were told, 
by the old man they met at the temple, 
“will be a sign of contradiction.” 

“Who is this man?” they asked, 
“who calms the sea, heals the sick, 
casts out demons and raises the dead?” 

“Who are you?” They kept asking, 
from the visit to the manger till the day he was nailed to the Cross 
and even after he rose from the dead. 
And when they looked close, listened close, they either said, 
“He is possessed!” or “he must die!” or, “My Lord and My God!”

This is that child. 
Some people pause briefly, admire the pretty scene, and move on. 
“It’s just a story,” so many say. 

What a story! Has anyone told a better one? 
There are those who like to say, 
oh, it’s all made up – conveniently avoiding the obvious next question: 
and just who made up this story? 
What genius conceived it? And executed it? 

So many moving parts, so many people and places involved; 
and the story was told, only a few years after, 
in all the places where it was supposed to have happened;
But, if it was a fiction, that was a suicidal thing to do.
Too many people who could easily say, 
“no, none of that happened, we live here, we know.”

No, the story can’t be explained away; 
this child cannot be explained away.
And so, many simply move on. 

But, if you stop; if you gaze at the child, 
you may see him gazing back. 
It’s risky. You may get caught. 
You may hear him ask: 
“Who do you say that I am?”


Sandra said...

Really wonderful sermon, Father. I truly hope all of us who are blessed enough to be steeped in the wonderful traditions of the Church, do not lose ourselves in the (truly) wonderful aesthetics and miss Himself--this very unsafe Divinity reaching out to us through them.

truthfinder2 said...

I really loved this homily, Father! After all, "Aslan is not a tame Lion." We do well to remember that.~ Rosemary A.