Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2019.
It is glorious to be with you all to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, born of His Mother, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin. He was conceived by Mary in her heart by the message and invitation of the Angel Gabriel—and thereby after conceiving Him first in her heart, she conceived Him in her spotless womb. And the Angel Gabriel greeted the newborn Babe and announced to the shepherds keeping watch by night the very words, Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to His people on earth. He conceived through an angel, and welcomed into the world through an Angel, who then was surrounded by the whole heavenly host of angels just as our Altar when we celebrate the Eucharist is surrounded by angels, archangels, and furthermore all the company of heaven—the Saints who live in glory and pray for us that we may continue to walk in the ways of Christ along the holy highway prophecied by Isaiah. The whole world, I chanted at the beginning of our Mass—the whole world being at peace. The Lord has given us a sign: As promised in time of old, a Virgin has conceived and has born a Son, and all call His name Emmanuel: which means, God with us. Our prayer can only lift us to heaven when surrounded as we are by such glory.
This is my fourth Christmas as your priest. I look forward as I am sure you all do as well to this holy night, when the stars are brightly shining. A new spirit is in the air, a gentleness enters into our everyday conversations in a noticeable way, does it not? Many of us gather with family during this holy season—a holy season my family, before I was ordained, had to learn as a matter of necessity was twelve days long, because we quickly realized there was no way we could possibly share Christmas with all of our family if “Christmas” meant roughly a 24-hour period. I believe one year we actually tried—we tried visiting four different households on Christmas Eve and Day. Perhaps the whole world was full of peace, but our hearts were not quite sharing in that peace that year.
And so Christmas is not only religiously twelve days long, ending with the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord on January 6, when we celebrate that the whole world, represented by the Magi, the Wise Men who followed the Star and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh both to Jesus the King and to His Mother Mary—but let it be practically twelve days long, as well, as best as we are able to make it so. God is at work in the world, and His power abounds everywhere we go, and everywhere we might travel during this season to see friends and family. Recognize that this power is best experience as peace not only in the season of Christmas, but everywhere and in all places and times. The peace of Christ we exchange with each other during the Liturgy of the Eucharist—that peace of the Eucharist, when all of us, each a member of the Body of Christ, by the grace of the precious Body of Christ on the Altar, seeking unity with the Body of Christ, that is, with the person with whom we exchange the peace.
And how do we really exchange peace in that moment? We can shake hands, or hug, or kiss, or greet a friend anytime. And certainly each time we do those things can be a moment that shares in the peace of Christ. But what is the specifically Christian understanding of what it means to exchange the peace? It is this: we look into the eyes of another person, and in a moment of quiet—whether it is half of a second or a whole minute does not matter—in a moment of quiet, a moment of stillness, we recognize something utterly amazing: that Christ is in that person in whose eyes you are looking, and that they can perceive Christ in you.
This is the peace of Christ. This is the same peace of Christ that passes all understanding. And this is the peace of Christ that the whole world shared with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, a peace we are sharing in this evening, the peace Christ proclaimed to the apostles on the first Easter evening: Christ, crucified and resurrected proclaiming the Upper Room, “Peace be with you.” All the same peace that shines off the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger—the whole world being at peace.