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Homily for Midnight Mass… | davelovell.net
Dec 242010
 

This is a homily I gave at Mid­night Mass a few years ago…

Cae­sar Augus­tus issued a decree and set the whole world mov­ing. What power there is in Impe­r­ial decree. Cae­sar speaks and every­one is uprooted. They all return to their native homes. Caesar’s word calls peo­ple back to their roots.

Cae­sar has a pur­pose. He wants the whole world to be num­bered. He is count­ing his peo­ple. He needs their money. These peo­ple are not named, they are num­bered. Their sto­ries are not impor­tant. Who they are does not mat­ter. What they can pro­vide does. They rep­re­sent an eco­nomic resource. A decree from Cae­sar. Word comes from Rome. An order comes from the cen­ter of power to the mar­gins, and the whole world moves. Cae­sar sees him­self as the immove­able cen­ter of a move­able world.

Mary and Joseph move as well. They return to the city of David because that is where Joseph’s fam­ily began. King David was a shep­herd, just like those in tonight’s gospel. The Lord took him from the obscu­rity of mind­ing sheep and placed him at the cen­ter of his peo­ple. David built a new city for his God, Jerusalem. It was the cen­ter of every pious Jew’s life, for it was there that God dwelt in the midst of his peo­ple. David, the mar­ginal char­ac­ter, became the cornerstone.

But, David also had an inter­est in num­ber­ing his peo­ple. In the 24th chap­ter of the 2nd Book of Samuel, we read that he decided to count the peo­ple of Israel. His gen­er­als and advis­ers warned him against this. The peo­ple belonged to God, the land belonged to God, nei­ther belonged to David. The peo­ple were instru­ments of God’s pur­pose, they were nei­ther eco­nomic units, nor chat­tel to be sent hither and yon by an earthly king.

David learned his les­son when a plague fell on Israel as a result of his pre­sump­tion. David, much like Cae­sar, thought that he was the cen­ter, the still point of a world upon which his poli­cies turned.

Luke is telling us that Cae­sar, secure in his palace, does not real­ize that he is now replaced as cen­ter of the world. With the Incar­na­tion, the world spins off its axis, as He through whom all things are made is born in the City of David and laid in a manger. The feast of Christ­mas calls us all back to our origins.

The first to see this won­der are the shep­herds. Mary, Joseph and the child have nowhere to lay their heads. There was no room for them in the inn. The Son of Man can find no lodg­ing. He came to his own and his own received him not. The shep­herds too have no per­ma­nent place to lay their heads. They were lit­er­ally ‘pass­ing the night in the open’. They were out­siders. Cen­tral to their lives was their job. There was nowhere else to go for failed shep­herds. Yet the shep­herds, those who keep their eyes peeled, who live out in the open, who are out­siders, see the angel and the glory of the Lord before all oth­ers. Their mas­ters are sound asleep in their beds, hav­ing turned the Lord of Glory from their doors. The shep­herds see, and in see­ing under­stand. The out­siders are brought within.

They do a strange thing. They say, “Let us go and see this won­der.” They went in haste. They for­got their flocks. They for­got their jobs. The frag­ile secu­rity of their pro­fes­sion was left behind them. The cen­ter of their lives changed. It was no longer focused on vul­ner­a­ble flocks of sheep on a wind-swept hill­side in the dark of night, depend­ing on the patron­age of wealth­ier men. The new cen­ter of their lives was not their job, it was not Jerusalem, it was not Rome, it was a manger at which beasts were fed, which was trans­formed into the throne of the Lord. And they went back prais­ing and glo­ri­fy­ing God for all that they had seen. The mar­ginal had become the center.

To live in faith seems dif­fi­cult in a world, which no longer res­onates to the songs and sym­bols of heav­enly glory. Chris­tians, as they make their way to church Sun­day by Sun­day, fes­ti­val by fes­ti­val, when their neigh­bors are sleep­ing, doing their shop­ping or head­ing to the game, can feel that they are on the mar­gin, the odd ones out.

The Christ­mas gospel shows us that it was ever thus.

For the shep­herds, it was eas­ier to rec­og­nize what had hap­pened, they were unen­cum­bered by mem­ber­ship in soci­ety, they had no earthly king, they were not to be counted.  We, here, now are almost con­tin­u­ally counted … and tracked and polled, our soci­ety holds-up many kings for us to wor­ship.  Can we, like the shep­herds, see through those who pre­tend to power to the real King of Glory.

The shep­herds went back glo­ri­fy­ing God for all that they had heard and seen.   For the Angel had said to them “…Do not be afraid; for behold, I pro­claim to you good news of great joy…  For today in the city of David a sav­ior has been born for you who is Mes­siah and Lord.”

 Posted by at 12:33 pm

  2 Responses to “Homily for Midnight Mass…”

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