(Mass During the Night)

Humans have never lived in peace and harmony.  Instead of humankind making strides in this area, it seems to worsen all the time. If it isn’t homegrown with over 300 mass murders in our country, it is from nations trying to overtake other nations. What is it in the human genome that causes us to move away from peace so often and so much?

Christmas is all about bringing peace into the world. If we could follow the way of Jesus, truly follow it, we would find a way to peace. Jesus so often gave the greeting: “Peace!” My peace I leave you, my peace I give you!” In our first reading today, Isaiah calls the Messiah the Prince of Peace, and says, “His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.” The kind of peace that Isaiah expected, though, was one brought on by a conquering war hero, and I suppose that is one way of establishing peace. When the Romans had conquered everything, there was historically a relative peace for a while. God was not about to do it that way, however. Jesus was going to make it possible for us to have peace, but it would be still a free choice. We have to want peace and want to follow his way to get it.

In Luke’s lovely story of the birth of Jesus, we conclude with angels proclaiming that God is glorified in heaven and on earth there will be peace for his favored people.

Two thousand and fifteen years later we still have not discovered that peace nor acted on Jesus’ words. Some have, of course, and many of the saints were able to establish their peace on earth. But the world has not found it yet. Jesus told us that we must all be like children and the Christ child today is the model of that peace and innocence and helplessness – and that peace can be achieved by giving ourselves and our lives up completely to God’s will. “Thy will be done”, we pray each week, but how many of us really allow that happen in our lives.

It is up to each one of us in this building to begin the journey to peace. We can start in our own family and in our own church community. We know when something feels good, when we are at peace with ourselves and those around us. We need to make that peace a reality each day at home and each week at church. Once we have accomplished that, then we can spread our own Good News out into the community, and it will spread. Jesus talks about the leaven or the mustard seed to illustrate how things can grow and spread.

Luke’s birth story is worth looking at. In the chapters before Jesus birth, Luke has been making us comfortable by showing how the story comes out of the Jewish experience and by using contrasts of doubles has tried to show the difference between John who was a holy man and Jesus who was more than that. The section where Mary meets her cousin who is also pregnant joins together the two directions Christianity was to take – repentance and salvation. Mary’s Magnificat was meant to remind listeners of Hannah, the mother of Samuel’s similar speech in the Old Testament. John comes first but then there is a shift and the second one to come, Jesus, becomes first.

Luke is concerned with having Jesus be born in Bethlehem and that he be from the line of David, since that is what the prophets foresaw.  The census that gets Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem cannot be historically proven, and may have been a device to explain how Jesus could be born there. The birth itself is very simple and very complex. God, who made the world, couldn’t even find a house to be born in. How humiliating in one sense, how humbling in another. The story has no miracles, no declarations as in John’s birth, but establishes Jesus as one of the poor on earth, one of those God favors so much.

Luke, being a Gentile, knows that whenever an emperor’s son was born in Rome, all the poets and dramatists would compose poetry and odes to prosperity and peace. So Luke does the same thing by having angels  from heaven announce the coming of peace and the good news of joy, but instead of to the royal courts, they proclaim it to lowest of men – shepherds herding sheep in the pastures of the night, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. Notice that the angel summarizes all that Luke wants us to know about Jesus: he is from the house of David, he is the Savior, he is the Christ and he is the Lord. This is the same message that in the Acts of the Apostles we hear the Apostles preaching about Jesus.

The birth of Jesus glorifies God, Luke says. Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors. In my mind, “those whom he favors” is not a restrictive clause, but a descriptive one. God sent his son from heaven to save us because he favors us.

This then brings us back to the theme of peace.

We have all heard it said that “charity begins at home.” Well, I submit that peace begins at home as well. Until we have peace in ourselves first, there will not be peace in society. Christ offers us that peace and shows us how to get it. Through his death, he has brought forgiveness of sin in order that we might have peace. Spend some time creating peace in your own little worlds as a prelude to bringing that peace into the world. Only then will that peace be able to spread. All we know is the little child born today is our best example of humility and reconciliation with God. May your Christmas be filled with much inner peace, and may you begin to spread that peace around to others. That is the Good News that I wish for all of you on this wonderful feast of Christmas, when God became human.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]


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