Along with Silent Night and O Come all ye Faithful, O Holy Night is a Christmas hymn that touches us deeply. We want to sing it or hear it sung on Christmas. One of the many beautiful verses in O Holy Night is:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining Til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth This verse captures the depth of the mystery we celebrate tonight: God loves us so much that the Father sent the Son to defeat evil for us, to be one of us. Together the Father and Son gave us the Spirit to empower us to continue the Divine Presence and lead other back into intimate union with God.
But who is this Jesus, who always existed but whose taking on humanity we celebrate today? Let’s begin with the way we speak about him at Mass. As you know, the prayers of Mass have changed a bit, returning to a more precise translation of the Latin. Listen to what we will shortly be praying in the Creed:
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
Consubstantial with the Father, what does that mean? It means that the Father and the Son, and the Spirit for that matter, have the same substance. The teachers here will correct me and say, “Never use a derivative to define a word.” So to put it simply, the essence of the Eternal Being we call God is the same for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
So why is this important for us? It is important because it tells us both who Jesus is and who we are. We are that portion of God’s creation that God loves so much that He became one of us, and suffered physical death for us. The verse puts it succinctly:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining Til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth
Who are we? We are people who are worth it. How much God values us! And not just us as people in general, but every single one of us as individual unique reflections of His Beauty, His Truth and His Goodness. This is a message that He tells us over and over again in Sacred Scripture. He values us. We are His. And He is ours
We need to remember this simple fact: we are loved. Every person here is loved by God. Some might say, “I have been away from Church and have not made much time for God. I am busy with the family, with work, and with a thousand other excuses for not worshiping with the community. I rarely receive the sacraments. I want to pray every day, but I have to be honest, there are days, and there are weeks, and there are months, when I don’t talk to God at all.” And the Lord says, “I love you. Let me into you life, and I will always make time for you.”
And there are some who say, “I have not lived a God fearing, God reverencing life. There are things that I have done, or am currently doing where I know that God is not present. How can He still love me?” And God says, “I can and do love you because I see who you are capable of being. I absolutely refuse to give up on you. Stop giving up on yorself.”
And there are those who might say, “I have done some thing that is horrendous. Why would God want anything to do with me after that?” And the Lord says, “You are hurting, and I do not want you hurting. I want you at peace with life, and at peace with yourself. Come home to me and accept forgiveness.”
And then there are those around us, in our family, our nation, and throughout the world, who are treated by many as the rejects of humanity. They are the children starving today in Africa. They are the people being persecuted for their faith in Asia. They are the mentally challenged and physically incapacitated who depend on others to survive. They are the unborn whose lives are weighed as an inconvenience and the elderly whose lives are considered a burden. They are the ones who Christ identified with in Matthew 25. He told us that we care for Him when we care for them. “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me and so forth.” Those who need us are great gifts. They are our means of returning love to God. Their lives, like ours, have infinite worth.
A few years ago, our retired pope, Pope Benedict XVI, gave weekly audiences focusing on the Fathers of the Church, the early theologians that put the mysteries of God into language. In his message about one of these fathers, Eusebius of Caesarea, Pope Benedict spoke about the mystery of Jesus. He concluded with this:
We cannot remain inert before a God who loves us so deeply.
What a word, inert! Inert is the opposite of motion, the opposite of action. When we recognize what God’s love has done for us, we have to go into action. We have to respond to this love. We cannot be inert. We cannot act as though nothing has happened. Christmas has happened. The Divine Presence has become One with Us. We must be part of the transformation of the world.
“Come home to your faith,” the Church calls to us on Christmas. Come home to Jesus Christ. We need to be with Him. We are too valuable, too worthy, to be anywhere else.
O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth Long lay the world in sin and error pining Til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born.
O night divine!