Sunday, December 24, 2017


We hear the Christmas story as a lovely fairy tale.
But that isn’t how the Bible tells it.
For starters, when the people of Nazareth looked at Mary,
            through the cynical, judging eyes of the world,
         they didn’t see the Blessed Virgin Mother of God
They saw an unwed mother.
They did not say Hail Mary full of grace.
They said less pleasant things.

In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said,
            He who knows the mother and the father
            will be called the son of a harlot.
It sounds like that’s what he was called.
But St. Luke looked at Mary through the eyes of faith.
            and saw the Theotokos, the Mother of God.
The world we live in is the world we see,
            and the eyes of faith see a better world.

People didn’t see Joseph as a leading citizen either.
A carpenter back then was not a skilled craftsman like today.
It was manual labor.
When Jesus began teaching,
            people threw his father in his face.
Is not this the son of the carpenter? they sneered.
But Matthew, using the eyes of faith, saw Joseph as the saint,
            who listened to his dream angel
            and accepted the disgraced girl
            who was in God’s eyes full of grace.

Galilee was not an honored place in the world’s eyes.
The fact that Jesus was from Galilee was reason enough
for many to reject him.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Nathaniel asked.
Prophets do not come from Galilee, the Pharisees said.
But faithful Matthew quoted an obscure passage from Isaiah,
            Galilee of the Gentiles
            The people living in darkness
            have seen a great light.
God choose Galilee as home of our Savior
            precisely because the world looked down on it.
That stable in Bethlehem was not only the least hygienic place
            you could find for a birth,
it was ritually unclean, dishonorable.
But St. Francis, seeing it through the eyes of faith,
            regarded the stable as a shrine,
            made holy by its very earthiness, its humility.
Francis was the first to build a crèche as a holy object
            for us to venerate on this Feast of the Nativity.

The Shepherds were a questionable lot too.
Their job made ritual purity impossible.
Priests would not allow them in the Temple.
But the Holy Family allowed them in the stable.
The angels chose the shepherds to hear the first Gloria.
The angels’ faith saw the shepherds quite differently
            from the eyes of the world.

The wise men who came at Epiphany
            were not even Jewish.
They were Zoroastrians astrologers.
But for Matthew, they were the first to worship our Lord.

The Nativity happens when the rejected is embraced,
when the one the village called vile names
            is seen through faith as a holy virgin,
            and the smelly stable is reverenced as a shrine.

The world divides us into in-groups and out-groups,
            acceptable and unacceptable.
In that system, we can never be safe.
Even if we are in favor today,
            we may be cast aside tomorrow.

But God doesn’t work that way.
Christ’s incarnation as the illegitimate child
            of a poor couple from the backwater of Galilee
            was God’s way of breaking open
                        the oppressive system of in and out,
                        admired and despised
--   the system that keeps the oppressed down
                        and the privileged perpetually nervous.

As a young person, Latino theologian Virgilio Elizondo.
attended pastorelas or miracle plays about saints. 
He recalls,
            “. . . (T)he costumes (always) appeared very shabby.
            I was . . . tempted to give the people some money  
            so they could buy finer materials for the costumes.
            Eventually I learned that . . . (miracle play costumes)
may be made only from discarded materials
                        (because) in the Incarnation the rejected of the world
                        are chosen and beautified.”

Jesus said, the stone that the builders rejected
                        has become the cornerstone.
St. Paul wrote,
            God has called not . . . .  the powerful,
            not the important of society, but the insignificant,
                        the weak, and the despised.
Elizondo brings it to a simple point. He says:
            “What the world rejects, God chooses as his own.”
God chose Mary.
God chose Galilee.

God’s odd taste, God’s preference
for the so-called losers of life,
matters for us in two ways.
First, the fact that God cherishes what the world scorns
should change how we treat each other.
If we want to be on God’s side, we befriend the outcast
            whether they are cast out on grounds of race, class,
                        moral judgments, or legal status.

But we can’t do that for others until we find God’s grace
            acting in ourselves and our own lives.
We start by letting God erase the judgments of us.
So, how’s your life?
What kind of judgments are you laboring under?
Are you having an Andy Williams Christmas?
Do you have “parties for hosting, marsh mellows for roasting,
            and caroling out in the snow?”
If not, well neither did Jesus.

It’s the parts of our lives that don’t measure up to expectations
            that warm God’s heart.
How does your life look to you?
It’s all in how you look at it.
Are you looking at yourself and your life
            through the cynical, judging eyes of the world?
Or are you looking at yourself and your life
            through the eyes of faith,
            eyes that see yourself as the child of God,
            eyes that see angels who sing for you,
            eyes that see your own life as full of grace.

What is it about ourselves we have been taught to hate?
Are we the wrong height, the wrong weight, the wrong gender?
Is it our voice, our mannerisms, our ineptitude at this or that?

Maybe these things are faults in the word’s eyes,
            but not in God’s.
In the eyes of God, we are already a delight.
God has ruled. That is the good news we call gospel.
God has ruled that we are his beloved
            just because we are who we are -- just as we are.
Joy to the World isn’t just about what happened long, long ago.
It’s about what started long, long ago
            but is still happening in your life today.
This Christmas, take a leap of faith
that any shame you carry
            is the world’s judgment – not God’s.
As Paul said, If God is for us, who can be against us?
            . . . If God declares us justified, who can condemn us?
Soak in God’s absolute and unconditional love for you,
Dare to believe that God enjoys you just as you are.
Open the eyes of your faith to see that
            you are living in the midst of a miracle,
            right here, right now.

And resting in that security, offer a little of that kind of love
            to somebody else – show some kindness to a stranger –
            find a virtue in someone you don’t like,
                        and wish them well for the sake of that virtue.
Practice the paradox of accepting the unacceptable,
            and the dark sky around you will lighten faintly
                        in the East and the morning star will rise
                                    in your soul.