Sermon for Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, 2016
Readings: The Epistle: Titus 2:11-15 The Gospel: St. Luke 2:1-14
Many people take Christmas for granted. Yet the early Church did not celebrate it. It was first instituted in the Church of Rome in 336 A.D. probably so that Christians would have a far better festival to celebrate than the pagan festival of “the birthday of the sun god,” which took place at the winter solstice. Because the New Testament does not contain any evidence of the early Church celebrating Christmas, not all Christians have favored its celebration. For example, the Puritans in England under Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) outlawed Christmas because they believed it to be a heathen celebration. It was illegal to celebrate the holiday until the British monarchy was restored in 1660.  Christmas was also outlawed by the Puritans of New England. The following law was passed in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1659: “Whoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas and the like, either by forbearing labor, feasting or any other way, shall pay for any such offense five shillings as a fine to the country.” The law remained in force until 1681.
We celebrate Christmas as a Festival given to us by the historic Catholic Church, a festival celebrating the Incarnation, God becoming man in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a festival of the love of God supremely shown in the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. This story illustrates something of God’s love for man:
‘On Sunday, December 22, 1996, Carnell Taylor was working on a paving crew repairing the Interstate 64 bridge over the Elizabeth River in Virginia. The road was icy, and a pick-up truck slid out of control and hit Taylor, knocking him off the bridge. He fell seventy feet and hit the cold waters of the river below. His pelvis and some of the bones in his face were broken.
Joseph Brisson, the captain of a barge passing by at that moment, saw Taylor fall and quickly had to make a life-or-death decision. He knew Taylor would drown before he and his crew could launch their small boat and reach him. The numbingly cold water and strong currents of the river could kill him if he dived in to rescue Taylor. He had a family, and Christmas was three days away.
Brisson decided to risk his life for a man he had never met. He dived into the river, swam to Taylor, and grabbed hold of him. “Don’t worry, buddy,” he said, “I got you.” Brisson held Taylor’s face above the water and encouraged him to keep talking. Then he took hold of a piece of wood in the water and slid it under Taylor to help keep him afloat. The current was too strong for them to swim to safety, and eventually the cold caused Brisson to lose his grip on Taylor. So Brisson wrapped his legs around the injured man’s waist and held on.
After nearly thirty minutes the crew from the barge was finally able to reach the two men and pull them from the water into the small boat. Taylor was hospitalized for broken bones. Brisson, the hero, was treated for mild hypothermia.
Brisson later told the Associated Press he knew what he had to do when he saw the man fall. “I have a family,” he said. “I thought about that. But I thought about how life is very important. I’m a Christian man, and I couldn’t let anything happen to him.”
In this perilous rescue, Joseph Brisson shows us the heart of God. The God of love knows better than anyone the tremendous value of a human being and his or her eternal soul.’ For even one person the Son of God was willing to leave the blessings and the joy of heaven to become incarnate as the baby Jesus so that he might save so many others.
EXPOSITION OF ST. LUKE 2:1-14
The birth narratives of our Lord Jesus Christ are to be read and interpreted in the light of God’s infinite love for all mankind, a love that knew all people have sinned, and need to be saved from eternal hell. There was only one way in which mankind could be saved, and that was by sending His own Son to be born of a pure virgin and to die on a cross, in order to redeem mankind from the curse and eternal punishment of sin.
The angel’s message to the shepherds in the fields followed by the “multitude of the heavenly host praising God”  expressed the great and unspeakable joy of salvation coming into the world in the Lord Jesus Christ. At that time there had been four hundred years of silence since Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets had spoken. Many Jewish people were expecting the Messiah to come, and now, all of a sudden, his coming is proclaimed, his birth shown to be at hand. The event of the Savior’s birth and its announcement to the shepherds draws the angelic host into songs of praise to God. If angels celebrated with praise and thanksgiving when Christ was born, how much more should we praise and thank God for His birth!
The modern Festival of Christmas is corrupted by too much commercialism, as if Christmas merely provided another opportunity for companies to market their goods and services. Consequently, if we would have a proper, Biblical appreciation of Christmas, we must return to the Biblical passages which relate the events of Christmas, and see why there was so much joy at Jesus’ birth.
We must say first that our Lord’s birth was God’s great act of love for mankind, shown in giving his Son for the salvation of the world.
Secondly, our Lord was fulfilling Old Testament prophecies that the Messiah would come.
Thirdly, our Lord came in humble circumstances, being born in a stable, so that the humble and the poor of this world would know that He came to save them also, as well as all who would come to believe in him.
Lastly, it must be remembered that if we cannot become excited about the birth of the Lord Jesus, his life on earth and his work of redemption for the world’s salvation, then we must ask ourselves where we really stand. Do we stand as Christians, our feet on the solid rock of the Word of God, or do we stand in the sinking sand of the transient materialism of this world, and the attractiveness of what soon passes away?
The real joy of Christmas is that Christ was born in this world to save mankind from sin, from bondage to sin, from a real Hell, and from eternal death. If we do not really rejoice at this, and at the amazing love of God that would give His Son for the life of the world, then we shall find it harder to rejoice with the multitude of angels and give the glory and praise to God that is his due.