the Stable Tradition
December 25, 2007
Vatican is not usually recognized as for its innovation. Usually
when the Holy Father speaks, it is to reaffirm some belief
or practice of the past rather than proposing some change
in the future. But this Christmas is different. This Christmas
for the first time in its history the Vatican has replaced
its traditional manger scene in St. Peter's square with a
radically new one. And it has turned a lot of heads and raised
a lot of questions by doing so.
traditional manger scene is the one we have here in the church
and the one many of you have in your own homes. It is based
upon the Gospel of Luke, the gospel we just heard proclaimed.
In it Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because
of the world wide census, Jesus is born in a stable and laid
in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn,
and the angels appear to shepherds in the fields announcing
the savior's birth. We all know that story. But some of us
might not know that there is an alternate version of Jesus'
birth which comes from the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew's
Gospel Joseph and Mary do not travel to Bethlehem . Joseph
receives a message from an angel to take Mary as his wife.
When he does so, Jesus is born in Joseph's home. Now it is
this version, Matthew's version, that the Vatican has chosen
this year to be its Christmas scene.
beginning tonight, if you were to travel to Rome and go to
St. Peter's square, you would not see a stable with a donkey
and an ox, you would not see shepherds and sheep, you would
not see a baby in a manger. What you would see is a baby with
his mother in Joseph's home. You would see Joseph's carpentry
shop where he works. Adjacent to that shop is a small outdoor
patio, and next door a pub in which people are drinking and
celebrating around a fireplace. Now you might find an angel
or two, but no shepherds, no manger.
the Vatican was questioned about the reason for this change,
it gave a very incomplete explanation. The head of Vatican
City State who is in charge of the display simply said, “It's
time for a change.” I think you would agree with me this is
a totally inadequate explanation to justify a change which
has altered centuries of tradition. That is why it is a good
thing you came to celebrate Christmas here at St. Noel. Because
when the Vatican holds back in silence, I am unafraid to rush
ahead with an explanation. In fact, I think the explanation
is rather obvious. Why move from Luke's gospel to Matthews's
gospel? Why move from a stable to a carpentry shop?
the whole meaning of the feast that we celebrate tonight is
the Jesus must move from the manger to our home. As exotic
and romantic as it may be to picture Jesus surrounded by shepherds
and sheep, it is more important to find Jesus where we live,
where we work, and yes at times where we relax with friends
and a few drinks. The gospel of Matthew challenges us not
to keep Jesus in a manger but to bring him into our lives,
to bring him home.
what does it mean to bring Jesus home? It means to make his
priorities our priorities. What are Jesus' priorities? Let
me give you the top three.
puts people first. We who bring Jesus home are asked to do
the same. We must realize that there is nothing more important
than the people in our lives. They are more important than
the money we make, than the work we do, than the comforts
we enjoy. There is no more important thing to do than to spend
our time with people, to share ourselves and our wisdom with
them, to let them know that we love them and are thankful
for them. Jesus makes people a priority. In his great commandment
he says that we are called to love God with all our hearts
and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we bring Jesus home,
we must put people first.
must also turn the other cheek and forgive our enemies. Each
one of us carries some resentment, some anger towards someone
who has hurt our or disappointed us. We have all the reasons
why they were at fault and why it is their responsibility
to come and ask us for forgiveness. Jesus says we must take
the first step to forgive them. We must make the first step
toward reconciliation. We do not do this because the person
who hurt us deserves it. We do it because it is simply God's
way. When Jesus teaches us to pray he says, “forgive us our
trespasses, our sins, as we forgive those who sin against
us.” If we bring Jesus home, we must forgive our enemies.
must also care for the weakest among us. Jesus calls us to
care for the unborn, for the poor, for the sick, for the imprisoned.
It is not enough for us to say, ‘Look I'm taking care of my
life and my family, let those people care for themselves.”
Jesus measures us against the way we care for the most vulnerable
and the most weak among us. He says, “Whatever you do for
the least of those among you, you do for me.”
people first, forgiving our enemies, caring for the weakest
among us, those are Jesus' priorities. If we are to bring
him home, they must be our priorities as well. And that is
not easy. I suppose it is for this reason that many people
at this time of year choose to keep Jesus in the manger. They
string up the Christmas lights, turn on the Christmas music,
wrap the Christmas presents, and look fondly upon the little
Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. The Gospel of Matthew calls
us in a different direction. It invites us to take Jesus home.
It calls us not to leave him in the little town of Bethlehem
, but to bring him to our town, to bring him into our lives.
It calls us not to keep him away in a manger, but to let him
rule our hearts and to fill our hearts with love, forgiveness,
let us do that. Let us open our hearts and let him in. For
only those who do so will know the true joy of this season
and the wonder of Christ's birth.