Reflections on the Readings
The Nativity of the Lord - Christmas - December 25, 2010, Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
Mercy in a Manger
And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
There are signs everywhere reminding us to keep Christ in Christmas. It is not possible to have Christmas without him, or without Mary and her husband Joseph. But don't forget the shepherds and the Wise Men. What is Christmas without all these who first came to adore him wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. Each one is drawn that first Christmas to the majesty of the one sleeping in the manger.
The heavens declare the wonderful birth; a rare and brilliant star appears to reveal by its light, the birth of a king. Its rays pointed the way for the Wise men, as they journey from Persia, to pay homage to the light of mercy already shining brightly in a manger in Bethlehem.
And the shepherds, keeping watch over their flock by night, are filled with great fear, as the glory of the Lord shines on them. But 'the angel of the Lord,' says to them "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." The angel continues: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly, a multitude of the heavenly host join the 'angle of the Lord,' singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
So you see, we observe, as we have for two thousand years, a very important time in human history. We have before us tonight a glorious mystery; the greatest mystery that earth has ever seen. It is the mystery of mercy. For born this Christmas night, in the City of David, is a Savior; mercy in a manger.
What the blessed Mother gave to us when she said 'yes,' and then wrapped so tenderly in swaddling clothes, is the gift of mercy. It is a gift that keeps on giving, it never runs out. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy) plumbs the depths of God's mercy. Encompassing both love and grace, mercy is love that gives, that is more powerful than betrayal, and grace that is stronger than sin. When Mary placed her child in the manger that night in Bethlehem, Joseph bent down and whispered in Mary's ear, "His name is Jesus; he will save his people from their sins." Truly, Mercy came down and grace and love and forgiveness came into our world - Emmanuel, God is with us!
What will you give this Christmas? I know that under the tree is wrapped in very special paper, presents concealed in the glorious colors of Christmas. And yet, there is a greater mystery, a greater reason for this season. In the season of Christmas, God reminds us that he is rich in mercy. We meditate upon the baby Jesus in that manger and our hearts are strangely warmed by the infinite goodness and mercy of the Father's love for us. Our Father, sparing not his Son, chose to give us the riches of his goodness and mercy through the Son of his love. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us, all the days of our lives.
Christmas teaches us to be more like our heavenly Father; to be merciful. For blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Mary sang, when her soul magnified the Lord, "And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation." We can begin today to bless the next generation by showing mercy to them now. We can begin to 'pay it forward,' by accepting the gift of being restored to God and to each other through His infinite love and grace; forgiving and being forgiven. This is the great meaning of Christmas.
I'm reminded of the old and crusty Ebenezer Scrooge. There's not much mercy in those old bones. But by the visitation of the spirits of Christmas, past, present, and future, Scrooge encounters mercy. It is in the final visitation of the ghost of the future that Ebenezer exclaims, "Hear me! I'm not the man I was! Why show me this, if I am past all hope?! Tell me that I can change these dreadful shadows you've shown me by an altered life! I'll honor Christmas in my heart! I'll - I'll try to keep it all the year."
The unfinished work of mercy is our calling. There are many simple tasks waiting to be done with great mercy and love. In our families, let us give more place for mercy. Turn down the volume and serve up more of the spirit of Christmas. This Christmas, receive the gift of mercy portrayed in this nativity tonight. And then purpose in your heart to keep the true meaning of Christmas; to honor Christmas in your heart all the year long. For the mercy of the Lord endures forever. Amen.