December 25, 2014 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
December 25, 2014
Fr. George Smiga
On May 25th of this year, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem. The gospel for that Mass was the same gospel we have just heard, Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. The Pope, of course, preached on that gospel. Pope Francis is not only a holy man. He is an excellent homilist. And so I hope you will not mind if I borrow the theme that he used this May as the basis of my Christmas homily.
The Pope used an approach that I sometime use myself. Instead of preaching on the entire passage, he simply focused on one line. It was the line the angels spoke to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child.” The Holy Father asked in what way is a child a sign for us, and he moved immediately from the Christ Child to the children of our world. The Pope was suggesting that God became a child so that we could appreciate the sign value of children, that we would not miss what the lives of children are saying to us. So what do the lives of children say to us? Two things, one positive and one negative.
In a positive way, children are a sign of hope. Children exhaust us and at times they frustrate us, but their innocence and their newness are a sign that there is a future for our world. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles know this truth. How often have we been caught up in our own issues and problems only to find that the word, the question, or the hug of a child in our family gives us new energy and joy. Children are a sign of God’s presence. We press forward in life for them and because of them. Children are the sign that God is with us.
But there is another way children are a sign, and this sign is troubling. Pope Francis says that children are a diagnostic sign. They are a marker that indicates the health of our families, of our societies, and of our world. So how is our world doing? The lives of children tell us that we have a long way to go. Millions of children are living on the margins of our society without adequate food or shelter. Children are often the objects of human trafficking and slave labor, producing products that at times show up in the stores in which we shop. Children are coerced to become child soldiers and to engage in violence. Thousands of children’s lives languish in refugee camps throughout our world. Children regularly die of diseases for which we have a cure. Children are the most vulnerable members of our society. Some of their lives are ended before they are born. Those who are born bear the brunt of our selfishness, hatred and greed. Pope Francis says that the children of our world are crying, and their cry is the cry of the infant Jesus, crying out for food, for security, for justice. We cannot adequately celebrate Christ’s birth if we do not hear the cries of the children around us.
“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child.” On this Christmas day, we should appreciate the sign that God has given us. As we see the Christ Child in the manger or sitting comfortably on his mother’s lap, we should remember what he is telling us. He is telling us first of all to treasure our own children and to see them as signs of hope and love. He is also telling us that we cannot rest until more children in our world are loved and until all children have reason to hope.