(The theme: The joy and peace of the Savior through sharing love)
Introduction: The main theme of this Mass at dawn is an invitation to savor, by a life of sharing love, the lasting peace and celestial joy brought by the Divine Savior. St. John gives the main reason for our Christmas joy in his Gospel (3:16): “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but may have eternal life.” God showed His love for sinful man by sharing His love with us in His Son, incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus, in turn, saved us by His suffering, death and Resurrection.
Homily starter anecdote: #1) Sharing the sorrow of chemotherapy: An 11-year-old boy with cancer lost all the hair on his head as a result of chemotherapy. When the time came for him to return to school, he and his parents experimented with hats, wigs, and bandanas to try to conceal his baldness. They finally settled on a baseball cap, but the boy still feared the taunts he would receive for looking "different." Mustering up courage, he went to school wearing his cap - and discovered to his great surprise that all of his friends had shaved their heads to share their solidarity with their friend. It was their way of expressing their love and sympathy. No wonder God became man to express His love for mankind! http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
Scripture lessons summarized: In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah shows the Jews that their God as a saving God Who will extend His redemption to His holy city. In the second reading, St. Paul tells Titus that God saves us through His Son Jesus, not because we have deserved it by our good deeds, but because of His mercy. Jesus continues His saving mission by allowing us to be reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, thus enabling us to become God’s children and heirs of eternal life. Describing the response of the shepherds to the angelic message, today’s Gospel invites us to offer ourselves as a gift to Jesus, our Lord and Savior, and to bear witness to Him through our lives, by sharing love with others.
First reading, Isaiah 62:11-12 explained: Around 600 BC, the Babylonians took the Jews out of the Promised Land and kept them in exile (the Babylonian Captivity), for about 70 years. When Cyrus, a new Persian emperor, conquered Babylon, he sent the Jews home. This reading is set in that troubled period, when Judah was trying to put herself back together after returning from Exile. Daughter Zion means (the people of) the city Jerusalem. This was Judah's capital, in the center of which stands Mount Zion where the Temple had been built. The gist of this short passage is that the people should keep up their spirits because soon they and their city will enjoy prosperity and international renown again, and their city will frequently be visited by tourists instead of remaining a ghost city. In other words, God’s own people will experience the saving and providing love of their God.
Second Reading, Titus 3:4-7 explained: This passage is classic Pauline teaching, showing us that God saves us by incorporating us into Christ which is the real cause of Christian, and Christmas, joy. Among the congregation served by the early bishop Titus were Christians who believed they had to practice the laws of Judaism and to impose those laws on pagan converts to Christ. Paul reminds them that God saved us "not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of His mercy." In other words, law-driven righteous deeds don't win our salvation; God gives it to us freely. We accept that gift by taking the bath of rebirth, Baptism, during which the Spirit is richly poured out on us. This, not our observance of laws, makes us justified (right with God) and gives us a starting place for living the Christian life from which our good works will flow; it is that “justification” which gives us the hope of eternal life.
Gospel exegesis: The shepherds -- the first visitors and the first missionaries: The orthodox Jews in Jesus’ time despised the shepherds because these men were quite unable to observe the ceremonial laws in all their details. In addition, shepherds had no spare time to take part in synagogue services nor to study Torah because shepherding was a full-time job. These shepherds with whom Jesus chose to share His love on Christmas day might have been the special shepherds in charge of the Temple sheep, which were set aside for the daily morning and evening sacrifice of unblemished lambs. If so, no wonder their shepherds were blessed with the unique privilege of seeing the divine Child – "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world"! They responded to this great privilege by bearing witness to God, by praising God and by spreading the news of the birth of a Savior. “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.” Christmas, the feast of Emmanuel – God is with us - challenges us to be like the shepherds who overcame fear to find Him, or like the Magi who traveled and searched for Him. We should have the generosity and good will to search for Him and find Him in unlikely places and persons. That is made possible for us only if we welcome Jesus of Bethlehem into our lives by allowing Him to be reborn in us. Then we will have the real experience of Christmas – and the joy of the Savior.
The angelic choir and their angelic message: Normally when a boy was born into a Jewish family, the local musicians congregated at the house to greet him with country music. Since Jesus was born in a stable, the angels sang the songs for Jesus that the earthly singers could not sing. The angel told the shepherds to rejoice because the Savior had come: “Don’t be afraid. I am here with Good News for you, which will bring great joy to all people. This very day in David’s town, your Savoir was born – Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). We rejoice today with those shepherds because we have a Savior who can free us from the bondage of sin. We have a Savior who liberates us from our slavery to impure, unjust and uncharitable thoughts, desires, and habits. We have a Savior Who can, and will, release us from our evil addictions, heal our physical and mental diseases, and free us from hatred, enmity, jealousy and bitterness.
Saviors and the Savior: History tells us that there has been no shortage of false liberators and pseudo-saviors, who have deceived generations of people all around the world. The Greek philosophers believed that education and knowledge would liberate the world. Later, rationalists like Voltaire and Rousseau taught that mere human reason, alone, provided an antidote for all human ills. Revolutionary movements, such as Communism, have offered mankind the dream of an earthly paradise. Today, many people advocate science as the solution for all human problems, while others turn to liquor, drugs, or other pleasures to escape their troubles. Our century has witnessed the uncontrolled use of sex as a false liberating instrument, and Eastern mystical experiences and modern psychological techniques as routes to peace of mind and heart. Despite the claims of these various panaceas, however, the true remedy for our ills, as every Christmas reminds us, is Jesus, our Divine Savior Who, alone, can give us both true liberation and lasting peace and joy.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will." Christmas gives us the message of lasting peace, which we can possess only by sharing our blessings with others. This is the message contained in the celestial song of the angels, reported in Luke’s Gospel: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will." Christmas reminds us that God shared His love by giving us His Son. We respond to His love joyfully by using our health, wealth, talents and blessings for Him as He dwells in everyone we encounter. Just as Jesus shared His love with the poor shepherds and the humble Magi, we too are called to share our love with the less fortunate people around us. Sharing with love is the sign that one has the “good will” of which the angel spoke. The peace of Christmas is promised only to such large-hearted people, for only they are able to receive it.
Life messages: 1) We need to become Christ-bearers and Christ-givers: Since it is Jesus Who gives real meaning to our celebrations, Jesus must be reborn in us each time we celebrate Christmas. Hence, let us leave “room in the inn” of our hearts for Jesus to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, if He is not born in my heart?” So let us pray for the grace of Jesus’ birth in each one of us today, bringing us love, mercy, kindness, and compassion to give away. Let us help all those around us to experience the newborn Savior – Jesus within us - as sharing love in the form of compassionate words, unconditional forgiveness, selfless service, merciful deeds and overflowing generosity.
2) We need to listen to God speaking to us every day and to respond promptly, as the shepherds did: There isn't one of us in this Church this morning who hasn't had God speak to him or her in some personal way. It may not have happened as dramatically as it did to these shepherds, but God has indeed spoken to our soul and spirit. Too often, however, we have chosen not to listen. Have we ever had an argument with a member of our family, heard that voice deep down within us telling us to stop, and we knew we should stop? Have we ever had that same inner sense of knowing we needed to do something or to avoid doing something? That was the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us, the Spirit sent to us by the Father at the request of Jesus our Savior. Whether or not we chose to listen in those cases really isn't the point. The point is that God has indeed spoken to us, and He continues to speak to us right now. How are we going to respond? Will we respond as Mary did, as the shepherds did and as the magi did? Or not? (Fr. Antony Kadavil)