Nativity of the Lord
Nativity of the Lord Homily Transcript
This year marks the 200th anniversary of a very endearing Christmas hymn that all of us know and sing, originally in its language called Stille Nacht. Stille Nacht, heilige nacht. Silent night, holy night. It was composed by an Austrian by the name of Franz Gruber. He wrote the melody, and a priest, Father Mohr, did the lyrics.
It was originally composed for a guitar because that year the organ at the church wasn’t working very well because mice had come and eaten through part of the organ. It was composed to be played on a guitar. It is a very enduring hymn.
It’s something that moves our hearts. There is a silence that this great mystery of the Word coming flesh, Jesus’s birth, provokes in each one of us. They’re beyond words. It can’t be explained. In fact, we come across that in the Gospel reading for today. The only message that’s there, the only words that are spoken were the ones by the shepherds just repeating what they had heard from the angels, from the Lord. Humanity can add no word to that. There are no human words to describe what all this means, and that is why Mary reflects on these words and stores them in her heart.
Yet, even though there are no human words that can describe what this great mystery of God’s love for us in giving us his son is all about, one thing we do have, especially as we look at a creche or we hear this Gospel scene, and it is that God speaks to us not only in words, but in the relationships that parents have with their children. It’s within this experience, this human experience that God wants to communicate to us what this mystery is about. So often in my 43 years as a priest, I’ve come across those experiences of the relationship between a parent and child that in some way leave me speechless. They remind me that there is such a sacred bond between a parent and a child that is filled with mystery.
Some years ago, I was vacationing with some friends and they asked me to come to their home for dinner one night. I was standing there on the lake shore with this young man who had just been married. He was looking out over the lake and he saw that his father’s sail boat was out there, his Hobie catamaran. He said to me, “Next year, I’m going to have one of these.”
Next year rolls around, and I’m again visiting the family, having dinner with them, and we’re standing there, standing there with this young man. We’re looking out over the lake and there’s only one boat, his father’s. I said, “Well, Greg,” I said, “I guess you didn’t get your boat this year.”
He said, “Yes,” he said, as he held his newborn son in his arms, “But what a great trade-off.” What a great trade-off.
That says so much because in many ways, as a new parent learns, they have to kind of recalibrate everything. They have to begin to see what really counts, what’s of value. It is something in that experience that God the Father wants us to understand, that a child is so dear. His own child, that he would give that child for us.
The other experience that I had is just recently. This fall, we remembered the tragic fire 60 years ago at Our Lady of the Angels. 92 children died in a fire and three religious sisters. It was a great tragedy, not only for that parish and that community, but for the entire city and globally as well. I celebrated mass with many of those who were students, who were survivors. Many of them were my age at that time. I was in fourth grade, as I remember the story being told by the sisters who taught us of this terrible tragedy.
At the end of the mass, something very, very endearing, one of the most endearing things that I experienced as a priest over this years happened. A nice little Italian lady who spoke only in Italian to me, she was an immigrant, she was 95 years old, told me about her daughter who died in that fire 60 years ago. She was only ten years old at the time. The tears in her eyes and the way her voice quaked with emotion told me that the pain was still as deep as it was that moment 60 years ago. Then she did something that really was so very profound and touched me deeply. She pulled out of her purse a holy card that she had kept all these years since the funeral of this little daughter of hers, this little daughter named Joanne. It has an angel on the front with a child walking, and on the backside is the photo of her precious daughter. She pressed it into my hand and said, “I want you to have this.” One of the best gifts that I have ever received and I carry it with me here.
It is, for me, a message of how deeply sacred and profound a relationship is between a parent and child, that God uses to communicate to us what this feast is all about. There are no words to explain that relationship. There are no words to explain what God is saying to us by giving his son so that we can enjoy his life, we can enjoy and be brought into the divine life for all eternity. I think it’s very important for us to keep all of that in mind. If we really want to understand what this feast is about all we need to do is look at the creche but also the relationships that you have, all of us have, child and parent. That should in some way make us silent. There are no words to describe it. It is a mystery that goes beyond words.
The more that we appreciate that in the life of the church and in the life of our families, that God chose to reveal himself through that medium, beyond words, we’ll know what this feast day is about. Then maybe it will move us to treat all children, all children of God throughout the world, especially those who have so very little hope in life, all children who are neglected and abused, who are forgotten, realizing that God wants us to reach out to them because He, too, has that profound relationship with them.
Yes, I think Franz Gruber and Father Mohr got it right. Silent night, holy night. This is a moment in which we’re kept silent with this great mystery, but reminded how holy it is as well. I would just ask all of us now to stand in honor of that anniversary, but also honor this great mystery, to sing and stand together and sing a verse of Silent Night.
(sings) Silent Night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin, mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.
John 1:1-18, 1:1-5, 9-14
A special thank you this week to our friends the Mercy Home Board Members and Friends in the congregation.
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