Christmas: The Festival of Surprise
Homily for Midnight Mass for the Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
Preached on December 25, 2010 at Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96: 1-3, 11-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
[This is a homily that was preached by the first Filipino Provincial General of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, the Very Rev. Horacio de la Costa, SJ (1916-1977), at Christmas Midnight Mass in the 1950s at the Ateneo de Manila Law School, back when it still stood at Padre Faura in Manila. I remember having this homily read to us by our college professors at Ateneo de Manila on the last day of class before the Christmas break. It has been my custom to preach it at the first Midnight Mass that I celebrate in a new parish assignment in honor of the Jesuits who had taught me in college .]
Christmas is when we celebrate the unexpected; it is the festival of surprise.
This is the night when shepherds wake to the song of angels; when the earth has a star for a satellite; when wise men go on a fool’s errand, bringing gifts to a Prince they have not seen, in a country they do not know.
This is the night when one small donkey bears on its back the weight of the world’s desire and an ox plays host to the Lord of Heaven. This is the night when we are told to seek our king, not in a palace, but in a stable.
Although we have stood here, year after year, as our fathers before us, the wonder has not faded nor will it ever fade: the wonder of that moment when we push open that little door, and enter, and entering find a mother who is a virgin and a baby who is God.
Chesterton has said it for us all: the only way to view Christmas properly is to stand on one’s head. Was there ever a home more topsy-turvy than Christmas, the cave where Christ was born? For here, suddenly, in the very heart of earth, is Heaven; down is up, and up is down; the angels look down on the God who made them, and God looks up to the things He made.
There is no room in an inn for Him who made room and to spare for the Milky Way, and where God is homeless, all men are at home.
We were promised a savior, but we never dreamed God Himself would come and save us. We know that He loved us, but we never dared to think that He loved us so much as to become one of us.
But that is the way God gives. His gifts are never quite what we expect, but always something better than we hoped for. We can only dream of things too good to be true; God has a habit of giving things too true to be false. That is why our faith is a faith of the unexpected, a religion of surprise.
Now, more than ever, living in times so troubled, facing a future so uncertain, we need such faith. We need it for ourselves, and we need to give it to others.
We must remind the world that if Christmas comes in the depths of winter, it is that there may be an Easter in the spring.