01 January 2013

Homily for Sunday after Christmas (Matt. 2:13f)

“Peace on earth among those with whom he is well pleased.” So the angels sang on that first Christmas evening.

Where then was the peace, when Herod cast out his murderous net
            and killed thousands of young children?
Where was the peace when Zechariah, the father of the Forerunner,
            was cut down by Herod’s soldiers in the very Temple itself?
Where is the peace in our day, when children at school are killed,
 and innocent people die in conflicts around the world?
We are surprised and shocked when violence strikes.
But maybe, in the light of today’s gospel lesson,
we need to re-adjust our notion of peace.
Peace is not the absence of suffering, of conflict, of war.

The Church teaches us powerfully in the days just after Christmas. We remember the Protomartyr Stephen,  the 20,000 martyrs of Nicomedia, the 14,000 children killed by Herod.

Is it any wonder, when people hear of Christmas peace,
then see the bloodshed...the violence...the anger
all around and within us, that they question the message of this season?

Yet what they question…what they reject…is not the true and living God,
but an  idol of their own imagination,
an idol that takes a truth and bends and twists it out of shape.

For Christ himself told his apostles,
“Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth?
Not peace, I tell you, but a sword!”

And later he told them,
            “In the world you will have tribulation”
Eleven of the first twelve met violent deaths, because they followed him.

So in the light of what happened to the holy innocents, and to Zechariah, and to countless witnesses who followed Christ and suffered—why this violence? And what is this peace the angels spoke of?

The violence comes, because Christ’s nativity is a kind of D-Day,
an invasion of a place that once was free,
but had fallen under the tyranny of a usurper.

The enemies in this war are the Devil, the World, and our own sinful flesh:
            the devil—the tyrant and usurper, whose weapons are deceit and death;
            the world—the system he set up, run by fear;
            and our own flesh—the enemy within ourselves,
 who fears and serves the devil, and loves the broken world.

Between God and the devil,
the world as created and the world as fallen,
the new man we received in baptism and our sinful flesh,
there can be no peace.

No man can serve two masters. To love one, is to hate the other.

The Christian life is constant conflict with these three foes. We fight, we fall, we get up again. And again…as long as we live and breathe.

What, then, is this peace? Maybe it’s better to ask, “Who is this peace?”

St. Paul tells us elsewhere, “Christ himself is our peace, who broke down the wall dividing us from each other, and reconciled us both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.”

Look at his holy life. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He spoke with a Samaritan woman, outcast both from the Jews and from her own people. His love moved a rich man, Zacchaeus, to share his wealth willingly with the poor.

See his innocent death. Suspended between heaven and earth, arms outstretched in welcome, he spoke words of forgiveness for those who hung him there. He bought us for God by his holy precious blood.

Behold his glorious resurrection. He came to where the disciples were, cowering in fear. He showed them his hands and his side. Then he said, “Peace be to you.” He is our peace!

When he died, and rose, he defeated the devil in principle.

But what began in the Head, must be completed in the Body.
The servants are not above their Master;
it is enough for us to be like him.

So in this world we have tribulation.
We are conformed to the likeness of his death…
and yet we live,  
for we are joined to him who overcame death.
We face constant conflict, fear within and fighting without
yet we have peace,
for we are joined to Christ, who is our peace.

Is life, then, wearing you down?

Come to the Child of Bethlehem, whose coming brings us peace.
            Lay your troubles at his feet.
            Take his yoke upon you, and learn from him;
                        For he is meek and lowly in heart,
                        And in him you will find rest for your souls.