Homily on the Nativity of the Lord (Mass at Dawn)
They . . . found Mary and Joseph, and the Infant Lying in the Manger (Lk 2:16)
The collect at the Mass of Dawn on Christmas reads: “Grant we pray, almighty God, that as we are bathed in the new radiance of your incarnate Word, the light of faith, which illumines our minds, may also shine through in our deeds. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. R. Amen” How beautiful is this Prayer! At the dawn of Christmas day, we “are bathed” in the radiance of incarnate Word.
Bathing in the radiance of light, let us follow the instructions that the angels of the Lord gave to the “shepherds in that region living in the fields” on the night of Christ’s birth: “This will be a sign for you: you will find an infant in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). In any journey we need signs. The Shepherds were given a sign to enter this awe-filled mystery: God became man so that human beings can share in the divine life. The Gospel for the Mass at Dawn indicates that the shepherds made haste to the sign and they “found Mary and Joseph, and Infant in the manger” (Lk 2:16).
The sign includes the Infant, the swaddling clothes, and a manger. Concerning the manger, one notable teacher of the faith in our time has this to say:
Augustine drew out the meaning of the manger using an idea that at first seems almost shocking, but on closer examination contains a profound truth. The manger is the place where animals find their food. But now, lying in the manger is he who called himself the true bread comes down from heaven, the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves. This is the food that gives us true life, eternal life. Thus, the manger becomes a reference to the table of God, to which we are invited so as to receive the bread of God. From the poverty of Jesus’ birth emerges the miracle in which man’s redemption is mysteriously accomplished. See Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, New York: Image, 68.
With the swaddling clothes, the theologian continues: “the child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death: from the outset, he is the sacrificial victim . . . the manger, then, was seen as a kind of altar.”
Regarding the Infant Child, let us remember after Christ’s birth, there is a threefold description: His mother Mary “wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). This directs us to observe the virtuous member of council who did not consent to Jesus’ death after taking the body down from the cross, he “wrapped it a linen cloth, laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one has yet been buried.” (Lk 23:53).
The sign that the angels gave to the shepherd and to all of us gathering here proclaims: The Child Born of Mary is the Redeemer of the World. Standing before the manger today as we contemplate the “sign” of God’s words of Isaiah in the first reading today comes alive: “See, the Lord proclaims to the end of the earth: . . . your savior comes!” and we “shall be called the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord” (Is 62: 11-12).
Soaking in the “bath of rebirth” (Ti 3:5) as indicated in the second reading from the Letter of Saint Paul Titus we are called to invite others to the “sign.” May all men and women at each Eucharistic celebration, recognize this altar is the manger resting that Emmanuel –God is with us. Upon this altar, we are also the swaddling clothes because on it actualizes the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for our redemption.