The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday. By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
Nativity of the Lord: Christmas
December 25, 2004

Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 52:7-10
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation, that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! The voice of thy watchmen! they lift up the voice, together do they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when Jehovah returneth to Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for Jehovah hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. Jehovah hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Hebrews 1:1-6
God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds; who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become by so much better than the angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee? and again, I will be to him a Father, And he shall be to me a Son? And when he again bringeth in the firstborn into the world he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

John 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. John beareth witness of him, and crieth, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me. For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).

** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

As you are probably aware there are three separate liturgies that we celebrate on the feast of Christmas– the one of early morning, the liturgy of the birth of Jesus during the middle of the night, then what we call the shepard’s mass which is usually early at dawn, and then the mass of Christmas day which is what we celebrate now.

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And all of these liturgies have a separate series of readings.  Those of the first two liturgies help us to remember the circumstances of the birth of Jesus.  We all know the story that’s recorded in Luke’s Gospel.  It’s a story that’s so easy to remember and I ‘m sure all of us remember from our youngest days that story of Mary and Joseph traveling from Bethlehem and Jesus being born in a manger because there was no place for him in the inn and so on...    Well, today’s liturgy and the lessons are different.   They don’t tell us so much the facts about the birth of Jesus but why.  And this is very important for us to reflect on. 

It’s put very plainly in that passage from the letter to the Hebrews where we’re told, “God has spoken in the past to our ancestors through the prophets and in many different ways although never completely but in our times God has spoken definitively to us through his son Jesus.”  See what that means is when we look back into all of history God was always being revealed to people everywhere.  A lot of that revelation is contained in the Hebrew scripture.  The revelations, for example, where Moses had that extraordinary insight, when he was praying on the Mount of Sinai and he experienced God as being present as one who always is, “I am who am.”  And Moses communicated that, shared that with all of us.  Coming to know God as one who always is–no beginning, no end, simply is.  The source of all being.  The one who is being. 

But then through the other prophets we hear about a God who is a God of Justice–very powerfully in the book of Amos.  Or a God who’s a God of unbounded love in the book of Osee where the prophet even goes to the extreme of symbolizing God’s love by forgiving his spouse who has given herself over to prostitution.  God said, “Take her back.  Love can never be broken.”  It’s a symbol of how God’s love is; without limit, without ever being able to be broken.  So God is being revealed to us in so many different ways down through all of the hundreds of, millions of years of human history. And even outside the sacred scripture God is revealed through other religious traditions.  We get to understand something of God wherever we search in any religious tradition.  But then, finally in Jesus who John tells us is the very word of God, the word of God... It’s as though God has spoken and the word is alive!  A being among us.  Pitches his tent in our midst, the son of God.  And so if we want to know who God is we look to Jesus.  That’s where we will see the fullness of everything that God is.

And, of course, in Jesus we discover a God who shows us first of all that God has a very special preference for the poor, for the oppressed.  Of course, Jesus could have been born anywhere in any circumstances, couldn’t he?  Yes, but he was born among the poorest of the poor.  And Jesus became an exile very early in his life, an experience what millions of people in our world experience– being driven from their homes, having to flee, go into exile because, in Jesus’s case a tyrant was about to kill him.  So Jesus identifies, just as God, identifies first of all with the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted, the suffering.  And that says something very important about God, and something that we need to hear because if we’re going to seek God, well, this God who has a very special preference for the poor and the oppressed, we probably need to be among the poor and the oppressed at least some of the time of our life.  We have to go where the poor are if we want to really find God.  That’s where God is most of all.  That’s what in a way makes it such a tragedy that when you look around the world very often where the poorest of the poor are our Christian communities and church isn’t present.  Such a contradiction!  If you really know who God is in Jesus.  Now think even of our own Archdiocese– you know we’ve had a mission in one of the poorest parts of the world for over forty years in Recife in Brazil.  Well, we’re closing that!  But now we open up a church in the Caymen Islands where we can serve tourists mostly.  Isn’t that a contradiction!  If we really believe that God is revealed in Jesus how can we leave the poor and go to the rich?  That isn’t what Jesus did.  Here we close the churches in our own diocese where the poor are.  Something’s wrong, it seems to me if we really hear what we’re being told in these lessons today.  If God comes among the poor to be with them most of all and has a special preference for them...  If we really want to connect with God, to be with God, to be where God had pitched his tent most of all then we have to be among the poor, be with the poor.  The poor who are right downstairs right now sharing a meal because at least we have enough generosity, enough awareness of who Jesus is to provide food to the homeless and the poor. 

So that’s the first thing that becomes very apparent if we hear what God is telling us about God in this revelation in Jesus who is the fullness, the final communication of everything who God is.   But then there’s something more because God isn’t just born in Jesus.  This week when I was looking at various commentaries about the scriptures and so on I came across this that described a homily preached by a person, a priest in the 14th century, a few hundred years ago.  He’s a spiritual... in the field of spiritual direction.  Meister Eckert is his name.  A mystic.  A theologian.  A preacher and priest.  In his Christmas homily he said, “What good is it if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1400 years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and culture?  We must ask of ourselves this question now.”  What good is it for Jesus to have been born 2000 years ago if Jesus isn’t born right now in my heart so that I can carry Jesus into the midst of the world now in our time, our culture?  And how important that is when you think about what is happening in our world, how different it is from the marvelous prophecies that we heard in the first lesson today.  Isaiah proclaiming how God has come to bring good news, to bring peace where there has been violence and killing and war.  And the messengers are coming proclaiming peace is to happen. 

Well, that would happen and could happen if Jesus really was born in our hearts right now.  And that’s what we need to know about this feast of Christmas.  It isn’t just this revelation of God through Jesus.  That’s a very important part, but it’s also Jesus being born in our hearts so that we can carry on the work of Jesus.  And he himself made it so clear what that work is.  And this is part of whom he revealed God to be when he got up in that synagogue in Nazareth beginning his public life and he said, “The spirit of God is upon me.  God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor, to give the blind new sight, to heal the broken hearted, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim God’s year of favor– a time of total peace and goodness and love.”  He said, “The spirit of God is upon me now!”  But that same spirit of God has to be born into our hearts so that we undertake this work of Jesus– to proclaim good news to the poor, to give the blind new sight, to heal the brokenhearted, to se the downtrodden free, to proclaim God’s year of favor, God’s time of eternal peace.  It is so obvious that we need this. 

You know this past week we’ve experienced, if you follow the news even a tiny bit you know a terrible thing that happened in Mosul in the U.S. Army camp there.   A suicide bomber carried explosives in, causing chaos and terrible suffering and death.  And that’s the kind of violence that’s so present in our world.  And when I read about that, and you can’t avoid it, you couldn’t avoid it this week.  It was on the news all the time.  Even secretary Rumsfeld felt it necessary now to go over there and talk to those troops who obviously are going to be very discouraged and disheartened, going, “What good are we doing?” and so on...  But what I think about whenever I hear about this: how tragic it is for those young men and women, but what about the city of Fallujah?  Where almost every home in that city has been destroyed.  Rockets fired directly into homes, people– 250,000 people–  having to flee their homes, many of them killed, still suffering, and that’s only one tiny part of Iraq that we’ve devastated.  You don’t hear much about that in our news media, but it’s the kind of violence and suffering that we need to stop.   War will not ever bring peace.  That’s clearly part of the message communicated to us through Jesus who is the full revelation of God.  The only way you can bring peace is by transforming the world through love and goodness, spreading the message of Jesus, spreading the love of Jesus.  That’s the only way. 

In the blue book that we have from Bishop Ken Untener I read what he has for this morning, for Christmas, and he says, “There are times when we read the papers, watch the news, think of all the problems on this planet called Earth and we shake our heads, wonder to ourselves, “Who would want to bring a child into this world?”“ That  is a question you might ask.  Ken gives an answer, “God would.”  God sent Jesus.  And God is inviting all of us.  He wants to send each one of us into the world in which we live to change it, to make it a better place, to make it the reign of God, to do the work of Jesus, to proclaim the good news.  We can make it happen.  God would send us if we’re willing to go and so perhaps more than anything else this is the message of Christmas– who Jesus is revealing God to us in God’s fullness, and then knowing that Jesus needs to be born in our hearts and that God wants to send us to continue the work of Jesus to make peace happen, to make the reign of God happen.  Are we willing to accept God’s call to be a disciple of Jesus, to continue his work in our world?  If we are, well that message of Isaiah will surely be fulfilled.  Messenger will come proclaiming that peace is at hand, God’s reign is at hand.   When all of us are willing to undertake this work of Jesus and make the reign of God happen. In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

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