Last night, the angels sang to shepherds so filled with joy at the sight of Godís own Son born of the Virgin Mary. Heaven came to earth and God became man! The praises they sing eternally in heaven before God burst into this world and filled Bethlehem with music like none other. It was heaven celebrating the truth that God so loved us that he sent his son to be one with us sharing our human condition and offering us a share in his divine life.
God always loved his own in the world but, in times past he spoke in partial ways leaving many unsure, others uncertain, others missing the clues, still others confused. But now he has spoken to us through his Son. Even more that Son, that Word through whom He made the universe, the Son who is with God and is God as the Father is God has now come into the world. He comes not as a judge, not as a king. His vesture is not that of power or riches. He does not seek dominion over subjects nor does he demand tribute from a conquered people. He is Öa child, a baby, born of a woman but a woman, exempted from original sin, a virgin mother who bears a child into the world as all women do but Mary remains ever virgin, Godís beloved, and thus the bearer of the salvation of all humankind.
St. John today brings together two moments that determine our destiny. The first is creation itself. At the beginning when God created, He did so through His Word who is the Son through whom he created the universe. Now in the fullness of time, there is a new beginning. And it is that same Word whose coming into the world brings about the new creation, the new beginning, the new destiny for all of us who are born, as He is, born of a woman. Now our future is guaranteed. It is no longer a future of frustration, despair and death. We are no longer mere mortals doomed to destruction. Mortal we are, but now destined to begin in this life to share Godís own divine life because his son is one with us so that we can be one with him.
Amazingly a prophet who lived many hundreds of years before Jesus is born captured the joy only Jesus can offer: Break out together in songÖAll the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God!
May I repeat what I said last night? This is why we give one another gifts today! Because God gave us the greatest gift of all when he sent His Son to be born a baby, crying in a manger, bound in strips of cloth, nursing at his motherís breast. Here is how God wants us to know him, as one of us, loving us, reaching out to us with a babyís arms and smiling upon us as a baby boy. Some may reject him. The world may not recognize him but to those who did accept him Ė you, me, all of us - he gave power to become children of God, born again, newly created, filed with his love, sharing his life. How did we do it? We didnít! He did! And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we say his glory, as the Fatherís own son, full of grace and truth!
Grace and truth are the marks of who God is. We are called to make them our marks, the characteristics of our lives as his disciples. Grace is the gift of love. Truth is the substance of Godís Son. We need both if we are to share Jesus with the world. And you and I know how much he is needed in our world. Love can go berserk if it is not tempered by truth. Truth can become oppression if it has no love. But God is both truth and love poured forth for the salvation of the human race.
Allow me on this festive day to call us to be true and loving disciples of Jesus in every part of our life here at home, in our nation and in the world. Let us begin in our families and in the care we give for nurturing and educating our children. Here in New York this coming year we bishops hope you will join us in urging the Governor and State legislature finally to pas the Education Tax Credit Bill that will allow tax credits for New Yorkers to provide help for parents who send their children to religious schools. In the western world, only two countries give no money to religiously based schools: the United States and Cuba.
Freedom of religion and of conscience needs to be defended and protected around the world and at home. Several court cases, including our own in the Second Circuit, lead us to hope that the government will not succeed in dividing the life of our Church in two allowing us to abide by our teaching if we are in Church but not if we are operating hospitals and outreach to the poor and needy, the immigrant, the prisoner and the single mother and her child.
Religious freedom is in jeopardy in close to half the nations of the world. 75% of persons killed for their beliefs are Christians. Just this morning at least 24 faithful were killed in Baghdad as they were leaving St Joseph Church after Mass. They have a claim on us for solidarity and support. Armed conflicts and violence are endemic in every part of the globe but nowhere nearly as brutal as in Africa and especially the Middle East. We need leaders who are peacemakers who act to contain and reduce conflict and not fuel it by selling arms or encouraging groups who seek change through violence. Dialogue based on truth, mutual respect, commonly observed standards of conduct must replace threats and counter threats that divide and increase the likelihood of conflict.
Finally as disciples of Christ we are called to see everyone as brother or sister for we are all children of God, now that His only Son has become our brother and our savior. St. Paul reminds us: We are all one in Christ Jesus! He is our peace!
May that peace reign in the hearts of us all today and everyday in the New Year. May the joy of the newborn Jesus fill our hearts and light up our lives. We who today encounter him here at this Mass are called to witness what we have seen and what we have heard. We who are called to show Him to the world and give glory to God must be bearers of his truth and his love to one and all. And, doing this, may our hearts resound with Isaiahís hymn of long ago: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation and saying to the world: Our God is King. His name is Jesus. He is born of Mary the Virgin and He come to bring life, built on truth and love bringing us all love, joy and peace. To Him be Glory forever and ever. Amen!