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Bishop's Homily for Christmas Day

December 25, 2023

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu; Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu; St. Elizabeth Church, Aiea (with Chuukese Community)]

A man I know who grew up in Bethlehem and who has many relatives there, wrote to me last week, pleading that I speak about the Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Catholics who live in the Holy Land.  He wants the world to know that, while there are Palestinian terrorists, most Palestinians are peace-loving, and many are actually disciples of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  Amidst the terrible war and suffering that is going on there right now, he and his relatives cling to this Holy Child whose birth brought the announcement of “peace on earth and goodwill to all,” and who alone keeps that vision alive in a people suffering so much from war.

Two of our priests on Maui are from Myanmar, or Burma, and yesterday I received word that the village of one of them was bombed by the military regime that has taken over the country so violently, and that one of the priests there has been kidnapped.  Yet the Christians who live there, though filled with terror, have a peace that only the Prince of Peace can bring.

Tragedies have rocked several families I know, through the violent death of a loved one, or through the sudden debilitating illness suffered by a family member.  But these families have not lost faith in the Lord Jesus and in his power to save.

Here we are, in the midst of all this suffering and tragedy – and so much more – singing our hearts out about the Prince of Peace, who has come to save us from our sins; about joy to the world; and about a little town of Bethlehem that lies so still.  Some might think we are ignoring reality and participating in fairy tale thinking where all live happily ever after.  Yet what we celebrate tonight is much more real than any of these tragedies.  It is Jesus alone who is the light that shines even as we walk in darkness.  “The hopes and fears of all the years are met” in him tonight, and he alone can turn us from debilitating cynicism to hope that bears fruit.

If this dark world is ever to change, it is our mission to come into the presence of Jesus.  We who are entrusted with shepherding a world from darkness to light can only do so when we go to Bethlehem to experience the Real Presence of the newborn king.  And once we have seen this shockingly simple sight, we become the mustard seeds of peace that can bring to fulfillment the reign of the Prince of Peace.  What we do here is not simply for our own spiritual benefit, it is essential for the life of the world.  A newborn baby is a tiny, helpless thing, but this newborn we celebrate today is the Savior of the world; and when we embrace him, we are transformed by his power to save, even though it is as shockingly simple as an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger; as shockingly simple as bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ through the power of the same Holy Spirit who enabled a virgin to bear a son.

As we are celebrating the Eucharistic Revival in our country, it is amazing what this feast of Christmas teaches us about the Person we encounter in the Eucharist.  It was by no means an accident of history that he was born in Bethlehem, a name that means “house of bread,” because he gives us himself as the Bread of Life.  Nor is it insignificant that this town is the City of David, the one to whom God promised that his descendant would sit upon his throne forever, to rule with justice and peace.  It is no mere coincidence that his birth was first announced to shepherds, who raised their sheep to give their lives to feed others, and the best of which are chosen to offer to God in sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.  It was these shepherds, who knew the quality of a lamb, who saw the finest lamb they had ever seen, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  Nor was it an insignificant detail that this newborn babe was laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, because he gives himself to us, who sometimes can be so beastly, as our food, so that God himself can make his dwelling with us.

While we recognize the terrible sufferings and sin that continue to exist in the world, it is still right and just, our duty and our salvation, to sing songs of praise to God for giving us the gift of himself in Jesus.  This little mustard seed of hope, of joy, and of love we nourish today and every time we gather for this heavenly banquet, can accomplish more in bringing light into darkness than anything else we can possibly imagine.