I want you to put aside all the preconceived mental and emotional images we have of Jesus. Forget too all the doctrines and titles about Him. Just think of a first-century Jew living in occupied territory, looking just like everyone else. Jesus would be hard to distinguish from any other Arab or Palestinian Jew of today. He is just an itinerant rabbi, standing surrounded by a crowd of people, some friendly, some hostile. He says some of the most outrageous words ever uttered. Some think He’s mad. Some are intrigued, though skeptical, that such a program is possible to live by. He’s kidding, isn’t He? Is a comment heard more than once.
At a 25th wedding anniversary reception, the husband, who had perhaps had a little too much to drink, began thanking the crowd for coming. He started going on and on about how this was the best marriage in the world, and how much they love one another. When he eventually sat down, his wife said, “Tell me what hurts me.” Bleary-eyed, the husband said, “How do I know what hurts you?” The wife’s answer was swift: “If you don’t know what hurts me, how can you say you love me?”
Failure is a fact of life, it happens to all of us. We try to do something, but fall short of the goal. The experience comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is relatively immaterial: we play a game and lose. We burn the pot roast. We try to lose a few pounds, but end up gaining. These are failures of a sort, but we soon forget them and they do not have a lasting effect on our lives.
None of us like to be deceived. Most of us would rather have the truth, even though it may be unpleasant. Most of us would rather our doctor be honest with us even if the news is bad. Or a teacher letting us know when our child is failing rather than let us think all is well. It is better to be troubled by a painful truth than to be consoled with a pleasant lie, but there is one notable exception.
In our second reading today you heard a letter from Paul to the Corinthians, and I would not be surprised if you knew absolutely nothing about the city of Corinth. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city. People flocked there from all regions of the Roman Empire. It was a center of government, of trade, of sports, and was also known as sin city.
It is a funny feeling today. We come into the Church that is still lively, but strangely different. The crib is back in storage, the wise men have returned to the east, the shepherds to their flocks, the angels have stopped singing, and the star has disappeared. Christmas is a memory.
Some years ago I saw a play called “Down Will Come Baby.” As the play opens, the husband is taking down the Christmas tree. Among the things that have been hanging on the tree, there is a model of the Christ child in the manger. Apparently, they had been given out at church, and almost everyone in the parish had one on their tree.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. Fortunately, most of us value the gift of family. We treasure it and understand its importance for both society and Church. We live in a fast-paced world, some with more than one job in order to make ends meet. It is so easy to get lost in our day to day living, and when that happens, we may neglect the family while we worked to provide for them.
Why all this fuss over the birth of a child in a small, insignificant part of the Roman Empire? What difference does Jesus make? To start with, His birthday marks the division of human history into B.C., before Christ, and A.D., Anno Domini, after Christ.