Christmas Homily 2013

This is Pope Francis’ first Christmas as Pope.  Everybody loves Pope Francis.   I saw a poll that not only do 88% of Catholics say he I doing a good job, but 75% of all Americans feel the same way.  If he moved to New Hampshire he could be the next President of the United States!  But this does not surprise me.  I can’t tell you how many of my Protestant friends have said to me, “Congratulations on your Pope.”  To which I usually say, “Er… you’re welcome.”

Yet, at some level the Pope’s popularity surprises me.  He says some pretty challenging things that are contrary to many of our perceived notions of the church and the world.  He says he wants a missionary church that acts like a field hospital, tending to those who are most hurt.  And time and time again, he says we must begin on the margins, in the periphery of society, the outsiders, the forgotten, the disabled, disliked and the poor, especially the poor.  This is a different place to begin. We usually think of our Church and the world as beginning in the center and flowing out to the margins even if in our heart of hearts, we acknowledge that the wave never quite reaches to the edges.  Francis wants to start there, to have the good news of the Gospel penetrate the soil and blossom in peace and justice at the margin.

Why does he insist on this?  Because that is where the story of Jesus is lived. It is where he began.  Tonight we celebrate the story of a child born in a stable for there was no room at the inn.  He will be suspected and sought out and flee.  He is the king of kings, yet could he find more humble circumstances to enter into the world.  The good news is first announced to shepherds, always thought of as outsiders, living in isolation in the fields.  But they are the first to know of the new born king. Look at Mary.   Talk about the margins. She is a young girl, probably as old as an eighth grader and she finds herself pregnant by the power of God, but before she has married.  And believe me, in first century Palestine, teen Mom was not a big hit.  She could not be more of a marginalized person.

That is not only how the story of Jesus begins, but it is how the ministry of Jesus is lived.  When he goes out, he goes to the margins.  He goes beyond the city walls to touch the untouchable lepers.  He reaches out to the poorest, to the greatest of sinners and welcomes them home, lets them know that they belong and asks them to follow him.  He will approach the center, Jerusalem and the men of power, just once, and they will reject him and send him outside the city again to crucify him, the ultimate outsider, the ultimate in poverty and the very symbol of the margin.

So must begin at the margin because that is where the savior led us from the very beginning.  We must look at the poor, the forgotten and the broken because that is where the mission of Jesus takes us.  Indeed, it takes us there even within ourselves.  What part of you is impoverished, broken-hearted?  What part of you did you feel that God missed or failed to polish when creating you?  What is so dark in you that you cannot see the image of God imprinted upon you?  You can even look for Jesus there and maybe especially there because he made a career of showing up where he was not expected to. 

Surely, in the margins of our lives, the periphery we feel too distant to believe it sacred, peace and good will have settled there as well.  In whatever we feel is ugly, God has given a touch of divine beauty, in whatever we feel is unforgiveable, God has extended great mercy and what is broken, God has offered healing.   God has not left one part of creation short on grace, no sin closed to mercy or anything broken that cannot be converted into love.   The margins of our lives have had the good news pronounced to them as well.  As the dwelling place of Jesus, they too sing of peace and good will. What if we decided this Christmas to trust in the grace in those shadow places of our lives?   Surely, there is enough of God’s presence to forgive our greatest sin, or to reconcile with one who needs us.

If the redemption of the margin promises wholeness for us, it will do so for the whole world as well.  When the hungry are fed, the oppressed given justice and the tyranny is exposed, the light of God we celebrate on this holy night shines brightly.  Maybe this is why we sing of mangers and not palaces. Because only in the peace of the margins do we become one.  Only when there is sacrifice for one another is our worship made perfect and only when our care envelops the whole are we witnesses to God’s plan begun in the silent night so far away.  Only when there is one body of Christ is the incarnation of God’s people complete.

Jesus Christ came to the margins, the periphery, the outside that all might be transformed by the personal and intimate light of God.  He came so that when we break this bread and drink this cup, we might be one body for we have reached out to each other.  He came to the margin, the periphery, the outside so that he might live in us and through us.  He came to a stable, born of a young woman so that all the world could know his peace.  He came to make us holy. He came to make us one.