Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas: Bronx / Bethlehem (2009-12-25)

This is my homily for Christmas. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to and click “December 25” in the calendar.

December 25, 2009 (Christmas)
Luke 2:1-14 / John 1:1-18

[___01.] In 1971, my mother and father moved out of the Bronx to Glen Rock, New Jersey. My brother and I were with them, living in the suburbs, away from the city. I was five years old at the time

Over those years, my father and mother were adjusting to a life with a suburban house and without so much concrete all around. At one point, I noticed my father was checking a lot of books out of the library on 2 subjects:

(1) soccer, the sport of soccer
(2) grass, lawn care.

Growing up in the Bronx, in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, these were subjects he knew little about.

At the time, my brothers and I played soccer in the local league. My father was also coaching. So he needed to study.

Soccer is played on the grass. But that was not the only reason he was also checking books out of the library on grass, seed, lawn care. My father wanted a lawn. The lawn was an important part of our home.

However, the longest stretch of grass he would have seen was either in a park or at Yankee Stadium.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

[___02.] I bring this up because of our Christmas Gospel about the shepherds who are out in the field, out on the grass.

The grass of the field is more than a playground; …. To my father and mother … to us here, as homeowners. The grass is more than a playground for the shepherds too.

The grass is part of their livelihood.

In the Gospel of Luke, we read that the “shepherds were living in the field and keeping night watch over their flock.” (Luke 2:8)

The shepherds were sleeping out on the grass with only the stars and moon as their light. The shepherds are close to nature, to God’s creation.

The shepherds have not been to agricultural school or to the library. Rather, by experience, they know the soil, earth, air and what their sheep like to eat: the grass.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

[___03.] They know the field because they live and sleep in it. They keep watch over their flocks, under heaven and on the earth.

The shepherds would notice subtle changes in the environment. They would see a tornado or storm coming from far off in the distance. Shepherds would *not be easily* frightened.

So, it must have been a very bright light with the glory of the Lord shining. This light pierces the darkness and wakes them up.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

[___04.] What I’m suggesting is that you and I are called to follow in the footsteps of the shepherds, their footsteps through the grass and beyond the grass.


* * * * * * * * * * * *

[___05.] First, receive Jesus the Messiah into our lives where we currently are. The shepherds are surprised by God’s grace appearing out in the wilderness.

And, indeed, the city-dwelling Scribes and Pharisees would also be taken aback at the venue of the Good News. The Scribes and Pharisees would expect to find the Messiah in a place with more electrification, at least some streetlights.

Or, at the very least, a street. This is all off the charted course.

And, better yet, shouldn’t the Messiah appear during a civilized daylight hour?

What the Scribes and Pharisees are often accused of is complexity and rigidity. The want, for example, the grown-up Jesus (as rabbi) to obey their laws of the Sabbath. Jesus tells them that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath and of time. He will show up where and when he wants.

It can be harder to find him this way. The Scribes and Pharisees would need GPS. The shepherds, meanwhile, being closer to both the natural and supernatural world are able to find Jesus by the star.

We too are called to be like the shepherds. We are called to recognize Christ not just at church or in the Temple. We are also called to find him out in the field, in the mud, the messiness of our lives.

Christ is not present only in inside of houses with manicured lawns. He is present there too. However, Christ is also present in our garages, our kitchens, and even in our landscaping efforts. Christ meets us on the journey, with or without GPS and streetlights.

We are called to receive Christ where we are.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

[___06.] Secondly, the shepherds are an example because they leave the field to see the infant Jesus. Yes, the shepherds are justifiably concerned about their land, their grass, their work, their sheep.

My dad was too. Who would not be so concerned about a home and garden? Now, we have a whole cable channel devoted to the subject. You don’t even have to go to the library!

But, the shepherds put all this aside. The angel of the Lord invites these workers in the field to put aside the Home and Garden Channle, their productivity, their profitability, and their work. The angel says, put these things down to adore the newborn king.

The grass will still be there when they return.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

[___07.] Also, by leaving behind their field, their work, they demonstrate their trust is really in God who gives the harvest, who makes the grass grow.

This surrender to God’s will was also expressed by Paul in his letter to the Corinth. Paul also uses the harvest and the worker in the field to express how God works through his Church and people.

Paul first names the disciples who are involved in the effort. But, Paul also credits the Lord as the real producer and creator.

Paul writes:

What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:5-8)

We are all called to believe that God will make things grow.

Coming to Mass on Christmas, we are leaving behind the field – and surrendering to God – in the midst of all we have to do. We acknowledge that God causes the growth.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

[___08.] From my own father, I learned more than how to plant seed or mow grass.
I also learned how important it is to care for the bit of creation we are given.

This might be our homes, our lawn, our children. It also the bit of creation we are given might be a loved one who is sick or aging.

This Christmas, we are called to give thanks for our mothers and fathers. And, to listen to our mothers and fathers.

Boys and girls – listen to your mom and dad.

Our mothers and fathers who labored in the field, on the road, the office, the factory, or the yard to give us our childhood, given to us by God and by our parents.

We also remember that the life of every child and person, living and deceased is precious in God’s eyes.

Christmas is about welcoming the Christ child and about becoming childlike. We may have to stoop down in humility to see him and serve him, to stoop down in the mud, dirt, grass.

Christmas is about the coming of God in humility to the earth. As John writes in the prologue of his Gospel, the word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14)

First, he makes his dwelling as a small child off the beaten track in Bethlehem. There are no streetlights, no lights, camera, or action.

He makes his dwelling first with the light which only the shepherds can see. We are called to follow them through the darkness to that light.

The light which the darkness has not overcome. (John 1:5)


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