“For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
As we gather for Midnight Mass, there is always a sharp contrast between darkness and light. The first reading from Isaiah reminds us that God’s people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. Behold, say the angels, this light is born for us this day. We too walk through the darkness of this night towards our beautiful church with its tall steeple lighting up the night sky. We walk with the shepherds towards the manger to behold this marvelous event. God humbles himself and becomes a child.
It is always striking when we hear the story of the birth of Christ that this King was born in such poverty. We hear the name of the Roman emperor at the very beginning of tonight’s gospel. The very name of the emperor carried authority and power and fear. He ordered the mighty Roman army to conquer foreign lands and to defend his territories. And yet in a small hamlet, in the poorest of conditions, another King is born. He too brings an army but a celestial one. We hear of the host of angels that go out into the countryside to announce his birth. Jesus is born without any trappings of power or riches or prestige. The powerful did not visit him this day: only the shepherds who like this child were very poor as well.
And this is the lesson of this encounter between God and humanity: we must be humble to recognize and embrace this child. A powerful person, a person whose ego is bigger than them, a person that carries their head a bit too high looking down on others cannot possibly recognize this Christ child. Is it any wonder the when you enter the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that you have to bend and lower your head to fit through the small door? We can only encounter this newborn King in our lowliness, in our poverty, in our humility. God has dared to become human so that we can embrace him, touch him, hear him and fall in love with him.
Yet humility is so difficult for us to grasp. Pope Francis in his Midnight Mass homily asked: “How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?” The pompous and the arrogant cannot possibly know who this Jesus is. How many times in this very church have we given off an air of superiority because we’ve been here for decades and look down on those who just got here? This is not Christian. This has no place in the Church as the Pope reminded those who worked with him earlier this week that we could not have any airs of power or arrogance in us if we are to relay the Christian message effectively. We have to be meek and humble like the Christ Child.
It is becoming humble that we are able not only to love God as he deserves but able to love others particularly the poor. “How much the world needs tenderness today!” the Pope lamented. We gaze on the tenderness of Mary with her newborn baby and learn from her example. We learn from the humility of Joseph who put his pride aside to take Mary and this child into his home and cared for them. We must be small like our Lord. The Holy Father concludes: “When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict.”
We gather as one family tonight to adore this newborn King. We gather and marvel at his smallness and ask him to make us small and humble like him so that we can love and allow ourselves to be loved like him. Cast off the darkness of pride and ego and embrace the light of meekness, tenderness and humility this night. Allow yourself to be loved by God in your smallness.