The Holiness of Christmas

El Greco Nativity

We commemorate the birth of our Savior. His Nativity makes the long, cold night holy and bright. [Spanish]

The virgin Mary gave birth to the Savior in the humblest of circumstances, with the cattle lowing and the hay on the floor. The quiet humility of the people—the Child, His mother, St. Joseph, and the shepherds—that humility makes the night lovely. The loveliness of their humility begins to draw us into the holiness of the moment. But we have to go deeper into that holiness to identify it correctly. We have to find the path of humility ourselves.

We know that this poor family lives in intimate communion with the God of Israel. Mary and Joseph found themselves in the stable in Bethlehem, with a newborn child, in December, precisely because of their membership in the chosen nation.

They are descendants of king David, children of Abraham; they are praying Jews. Their kinsfolk Elizabeth and Zechariah lived a few miles away, not far from the Temple in Jerusalem. Zechariah ministered as a priest in that Temple, originally built by king David’s son.

Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem in the first place, and had to deal with spending the night of the child’s birth with the animals, because their people lived under the yoke of foreign occupiers. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would have spent the night comfortably at home, if the children of Abraham were not subject to oppression. That was their nation’s history, beginning in Egypt.

This family’s chosen-ness as humble Israelites, then—that draws us into the holiness of the moment. But still we have to go deeper.

We know that the child born in the stable will become the wisest and gentlest of teachers. He will give His followers a body of doctrine, both classic and new. He will teach about religion, human relationships, justice, mercy, and the meaning of life. He will become the most-profound religious and ethical philosopher the world has ever known.

This fact makes us see the night of Christ’s Nativity as an “enlightenment” of the dark world. Jesus lived His teaching with perfect fidelity, total honesty and consistency. His whole life reflected what He taught. In fact, His consummate lesson was simply His life. He lived what He taught and taught us above all by how He lived.

Temple aroma

This convincing wisdom of the Savior helps us understand the spiritual radiance of the night of His birth. Still, though, we have not reached the heart of Christmas holiness.

The holiness of Christmas fundamentally involves this:

The Savior born on this night went to the cross. He offered Himself to the Father. His whole human existence led to His crucifixion. He died an innocent Lamb. He became a priest, and offered Himself, as a religious sacrifice on behalf of the whole human race, His people.

The sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth saves us because it is both human and divine. For a man—even the noblest of men—to offer himself in death as an innocent victim of injustice—that would inspire us as an act of selflessness. That is precisely the case of the many martyrs that we venerate. But even the noblest self-offering of a human being cannot in itself save the human race from evil.

What happened with our Savior is: God became a human being, and offered His divine holiness, justice, and love, in sacrifice—as one of us. The eternal Word became flesh, and then He gave Himself back to the Father, as a man, for the salvation of all His human brothers and sisters. The unfathomable Trinity opened up to us, and drew us into the Eternal Love of the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit.

That is salvation. That is heaven opening, and grace pouring down upon us. Our salvation involves a divine human being, a human God. The dark, cold night of Christmas shines with radiant holiness because the cooing child is the infinite, incarnate Creator.

The Christmas mystery. The Person Who Jesus is. The mystery of the Incarnation silences the night because God’s grandeur surpasses our capacities of expression, even of thought. The holiness of the moment makes the whole situation perfectly simple. All we can do is worship.

God transcends us. He transcends everything. We know we cannot master God. Therefore, we cannot master Christmas, either. We cannot even fully fathom the word “Savior,” which we use to identify the Child. What we can do is believe. We can believe in the Incarnation precisely because it is God Almighty Who could and would make Himself one of us. We can call Jesus our Savior not because we understand what that means, but because we believe that Almighty God can and will save us.

Therefore, when we draw spiritually near to Bethlehem, we worship. We kneel before God in Christ. All praise, honor, glory, and majesty to Him, the Word of God made flesh for our salvation.

8 thoughts on “The Holiness of Christmas

  1. Merry Christmas Father Mark. Thank you so much for the beautiful homily I wished I could have heard it in person but I did see it on YouTube. I hope you’re getting to spend time with your mom or any family that might be around God bless you Father Mark may we look forward to Christ Christ’s birth and to renewal and to a happy New Year together. God bless.

  2. Merry Christmas, Father Mark. Each of us is called to make a personal joourney to Bethlehem where comforts are non-existant but the promise of Salvation is our peace and hope. May you experience the birth of Christ in your heart as you prepare to welcome Him admid a troubled world. Humanity continues to struggle with a self centered ego when the One who came from a purity of heart.shows us how to live if we choose to lay with Him in that humble manger. I pray for you daily. God Bless you.

  3. Father Mark,
    Blessings in this season and those that follow. Will remember you and your mother at Mass today.
    Pax tecum!
    Charlie and Ruth Long

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