My Dear Friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God our Father and his Son, or Lord Jesus Christ whose birthday we remember in the midst of this liturgy. We come together to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Great King of Kings and Lord of Lords celebrated in the first reading. The Prophet Isaiah said of him that he would be called, “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Each of these terms is chosen to represent a specific element of leadership. The Messiah must be Wonder-Counselor to be able to make the best decisions for his people. He must be God-Hero to ensure that he is the strongest and most able to reign. He must be Father-Forever as one who cares for his people and looks out for what is in their best interest. And, lastly, he must be Prince of Peace to make sure that the peace is kept among his people from without and within. Each of these traits describes the ideal leader. And, yet, so few of them apply to most of our leaders.
One of my favorite historical figures is Abraham Lincoln. His mere election as President was enough to split this country in two. If you were to look into his life, you would discover that he lost more elections than he won. When he put together a cabinet of advisers, he was so naïve that he actually hired all his competitors, all the people who lost to him in the primary, and expected that they would put aside any differences they had to serve the country. Sometimes he was justified in this belief but often he was not. He was incredibly patient with his generals, arguably too patient with men who believed they could retake lost territory by playing a defensive game. And, yet, despite being far from a “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace”, Lincoln is remembered as one of the best presidents in American history by almost everyone.
Today we celebrate the birth of the long-awaited Messiah who, in some ways, shares more with Lincoln than you might expect. Jesus was not born in a castle and raised on the finest foods. He was born among animals, seemingly in shame. It’s interesting to note that, despite being back in his home town, there’s no mention of visits from other family members to Jesus’ nativity. They may have come and paid their respects but they may also have been avoiding this man whose wife was having a child who was clearly not conceived in wedlock. Instead, the people who come and pay their respects are the shepherds, men often were considered necessary but religiously unclean because they dealt with the blood of animals at the animal’s birth and death. They are the ones informed by the Angels of the birth of Jesus and who are privileged to hear the angelic chorus sing “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace to his people.
It’s amazing how we tend to only expect great things from those who are born into great wealth and great power and how that always seems to disappoint us when those people have affairs, financial malfeasance, and other sordid activities. And, yet, over and over again, to paraphrase the song of Mary, God casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. Part of what I find so encouraging about living here in the United States is how we seem to exalt when this happens. On the one hand, we have incredibly greedy people who seem intent on not sharing their gifts with those around them, the scrooges if you will. But, on the other hand, there are people who will take a homeless African-American kid into their family and help raise him. There are those of you who won’t even hesitate to help a a sick neighbor in getting the crops out of the field. And, in the last month, I’ve felt privileged to see some of you reach out to those who are truly struggling with bills and food to try to lift them up. In some ways, when we do this, we are standing beside the Angels heeding the call they received to give respect and honor to a simple infant wrapped in swaddling clothes who is truly “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” May the peace of the Christ-child guide you in all your decisions.