There is often a lot of attention given to the “reason for the season” or the admonition to “keep Christ in Christmas,” but far-too-little attention is paid to who this Christ is and what it means for us.
Pope Francis, in his Christmas night homily, explains that we live in a world that is oversaturated with the self-centeredness that comes with an over-busy lifestyle and a way of being in the world that leaves us “drunk” with the need to acquire more without thought about the cost, without concern for others. Pope Francis explains:
In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will.
I believe that the way we come to this strong sense of justice, mercy, and discernment of God’s will is by remembering the one whose birth we celebrate today. The Christ who enters our world as one of us is a poor, refugee, prince of peace!
Christ is poor. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are reminded of whose birth it is we celebrate on Christmas day — the birth of the God who empties God’s self to become like us. God surrenders at every turn all that comes with being divine, all-powerful, all-anything to be a vulnerable, humble, child. As we hear in tonight’s Gospel, Christ is born to an unwed young women, a peasant teen whose life was nothing of luxury or comfort. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Christ’s poverty was, in a cosmic sense, voluntary. But in a contextual sense, we was nonetheless born into a world that had no room for him.
Christ’s poverty should call us to remember the suffering of those who likewise are born into this world without the support and care, the resources and privileges that so many of us can give thanks for having. Christ is the one who stands by them. Christ is the one who calls us to do likewise.
Christ is a Refugee. How quickly we forget what we read in the very next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. In Chapter Two we read about the magi’s visitation and Herod’s call for the slaughter of children (the event we commemorate in just three days, December 28th). Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus seek refuge in Egypt, crossing the border into an unknown land, fleeing the violence and terror of their homeland. Christ is not only a refugee who fled violence, but was also a Cosmic refugee who, as we read in the Prologue to John’s Gospel, was rejected by his own. Elsewhere in the Gospels we hear how Jesus is abandoned, rejected, and dismissed by his fellows including family, friends, and disciples.
Christ’s status as and experience of being a refugee should call us to be mindful of those who, like the infant Jesus, flee violence and terror in our world today. Christ enters the world unwelcome and stands in solidarity with those who are abandoned, rejected, and dismissed. We must welcome those refugees seeking protection and safety in our world today. In a time when political rhetoric in this country has ramped up fear and xenophobia, we should stand as Christians who celebrate the Christ who is himself a refugee and welcome refugees.
Christ is the Prince of Peace. He came into the world bringing, as we pray in the Eucharistic prayer, peace — a peace that the world neither knows nor can give. In the face of violence and fear, Christ always proclaims a message calling the world to “be not afraid,” to “turn the other cheek,” to “love one’s enemies.” The message of the Christ who enters our world as the Prince of Peace is one that condemns violence and retaliation, who calls us to turn swords into plowshares, who surrenders his life for the sake of others.
Christ who is the Prince of Peace calls us to resist the violent rhetoric we hear in the world today. As politicians and commentators stoke the fire of fear and terror, the message of the Prince of Peace is one that calls us to respond to threats with love, to surrender our thirst for power and control, to be more like Christ who sought only to do God’s will in terms of reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing.
This Christmas is a time not only to celebrate with family and friends, but a time to remember whose birth it is that we celebrate and what it means for us to call ourselves “Christians” in turn.
May you have a blessed Christmas and celebrate the coming of the poor, refugee, prince of peace by your words and actions!