Sunday, December 25, 2011

A King Who Lives With His People

Homily from the Nativity of the Lord - Year A

I asked our young children at the 4PM Mass on Christmas Eve to imagine they were a great king or queen of a powerful nation. 

"If you were a king, where would you live?"  "A castle!" they responded. 

"If you were a king, what would you wear?"  "A crown!" one boy shouted.  "Robes." another child answered.  "Fancy shoes" said another.

"If you were a king, who would be your friends?"  "Rich people!" shouted one kid.

"If you were a king, what would you eat?"  "Anything I wanted" said one child.

When Jesus was born, there was a king who lived just like that.  We heard his name in the beginning of today's Gospel: Augustus Caesar.  Augustus Caesar was the king of the Roman Empire and he was the most powerful man in the world.  He lived in the best house.  He wore the best clothes.  His friends were the richest and most powerful men in the world.  And he ate whatever he wanted with just a snap of his fingers.

Then I asked the kids the following question: "But was Caesar the true king?"  "No!" they shouted.  "Who is the true king" I asked.  "Jesus!" they responded in enthusiastic unison.  (By the way, every young child answers "Jesus" to every religious question: "Who's the Son of God?"  "Jesus!"  "Who's the mother of God?"  "Jesus!")

However, Jesus did not have any of the things we say belong to a king.  He didn't live in a palace; he was born in a stable.  He didn't wear fancy robes: he wore swaddling clothes, strips of rags.  He wasn't surrounded by the rich and powerful; he was surrounded by poor shepherds. 

"So," I asked the children, "If Jesus is the true king, why was he born in such a poor way?  And one child answered, "Because he's humble."

Perfect answer.

Jesus was born in humble means so that we might know that we have a king who does not merely rule over us.  We have a king who loves us and wants us to know that no matter who we are or what conditions we're born in, we have a God who loves us, who cares about us, and who wants to live with us.

A long time ago, there was a king in Europe who use to put on a disguise, sneak out of the palace at night, and walked around with the poor people of his kingdom without their knowing it.  His servants warned him not to do this because it was unsafe for him, he wouldn't be protected by the palace walls.  The king responded, "I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live."

That's the kind of king we have in Christ Jesus.  

Jesus "humiliates" himself for our sake.  And I don't mean "humiliate" in the negative sense of the word as in "to put down," but in the true sense of the word, as in "to come down to earth."  That's where we get the words "humiliate" and "humble" from.  They both come from the same Latin root "humus" which means earth or dirt.  If you've ever eaten pitas and humus, you know that humus kind of looks like a sandy, wet mud.

God humiliates Himself, comes down to earth, as a small child so that we might know that we have a king who knows everything we're going through.  Like the good king mentioned above, He, who is God; He who is fully divine, put on the "disguise" of humanity, if you will.  And, while never losing any of his divinity, lowered himself to share fully in our humanity. Jesus didn't stay locked up in a palace.  He left his palace, the Kingdom of Heaven, so that he could live here on earth among us.  The only thing he ever owned was the simple robe he wore.  He befriended sinners so they could become Saints.

And he didn't eat fancy food.  Instead, he came to feed us; by giving us his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  That's why Jesus was born in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, so that he could become food for us so that we might have eternal life.

That's the kind of king we have.  A king who loves us so much, he chooses to live among us, his subjects.  "Emmanuel" - "God with us."

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