Homily from the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord - Year C
“When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’” (Lk 2:15)
Imagine for a moment, you are one of these who were the first to hear about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Imagine that you are one of the shepherds. Tending your flock, in the middle of the night. Keeping warm near a midnight fire, surrounded by the smell and sound of your sheep.
And suddenly, the darkness of night is broken apart by the blinding light of the glory of the Lord in his angels. Who announce to you that in the city of David, Jerusalem is born the Messiah and Lord. They tell you to go look for him. However, the only clue they give you to find him is that he will be wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
So what exactly do you go looking for? What does a manger look like anyway?
All of us can picture a manger in our mind’s eye can’t we? The youngest of children could draw a picture of a manger. The manger scenes in our homes, our church, on Christmas cards and in paintings all look the same: a wooden trough filled with straw.
|A manger as it would have|
appeared at the time of Christ's birth.
But one of these mangers in the vicinity of Jerusalem held not food for animals, but a baby. A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes - strips of linen. The shepherds must have been awfully confused. Why in the world would the Messiah, the Savior sent by God, be found in a stone manger wrapped in swaddling clothes?
They would not know the answer fully for another 33 years.
The shepherds found the baby in a stone manger wrapped in swaddling clothes at the beginning of his life because that is the way he would be found at the end of it.
Listen to how St. Luke tells the story near the end of his Gospel: “Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph... He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock hewn tom in which no one had yet been buried.” (Lk 23:50-53)
From the very beginning of Christ’s infant life, as we look upon him in our mind’s eye, laying in a stone manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, we see the reason for his birth: that this baby, wrapped in linen and placed in stone crib, one day he would sacrifice his own life for ours, and be wrapped in linen and placed in a stone tomb.
Every child in the history of the world is born to live. This child however, was born to die. So that you and I might have eternal life.
And think about how Jesus gives us eternal life. He calls to us, asking us to come looking for him. And we find him exactly in the same way the shepherds found him on Christmas morning. And exactly the way the women found him on Easter morning. We find him, his Body, as they did, resting on stone and wrapped in linen. Today, we find Jesus resting on the stone of this altar, sitting upon the linen of this altar cloth.
Just as he allowed himself to be wrapped in linen and placed in a stone manger, a feeding trough for animals; so too, again, he allows himself to be wrapped in linen and placed on this stone altar so we might come here to feed on his Body and Blood and receive eternal life.
Just as he allowed himself to be wrapped in linen and placed in a stone tomb, where he would conquer death and rise from the grave; so too, again, he allows himself to wrapped in linen and placed on this stone altar so we might come here to rise from the death of sin.
And the Good News my friends, is that because of this, Jesus didn’t offer his life for us only as a one-time event 2,000 years ago. Neither does he offer his life for us only at these annual celebrations. Jesus offers you and I his life every Sunday, every Holy Day, indeed every day, right here on this altar.
Let us continue to seek and find Jesus Christ, week after week, exactly where those shepherds and women found him: wrapped in linen and placed on stone. “Let us go, then... to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’” (Lk 2:15)