On the Nativity of Jesus

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2020.

The nativity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is described in Saint Luke’s account of the Gospel, as we just heard. His taking the flesh of Blessed Mary is also described, though in far less detail, in Saint Matthew’s Gospel account. That the birth of Christ—which we not merely remember today but actually experience and participate in sacramentally and liturgically—received no mention from Saint Mark and Saint John (save very cryptic description in John’s Revelation), but a verse from Saint Paul, and nothing in the other of the apostolic writings bound up in the New Testament, is something to think about and ponder in our hearts as we celebrate this wonderful feast, so important and central to Christian religion, and so important and central to our lives in so many ways.

Now, I admit, this might sound like something only biblical scholars would find interesting. But this fact starts to become very curious when we consider the order in which the New Testament writing came in to the Church. Having a book called a “Bible” is a great gift but it also can obscure the fact that Paul’s letters—most if not all of them—came before any of the four Gospel accounts were written. Paul, as the primary teaching voice of the Church in the early decades, led in his apostolic teaching throughout the known world not with the birth of Christ but with His Death and Resurrection. He preached Christ Crucified and Risen time and time again. Paul, in all his letters (which are inexhaustible in richness for all time) gives us but one verse on the birth. It comes from Galatians chapter 4, and it reads: “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Surely the Church in its worship life knew of the virgin birth! Surely the Church in its conversations and fellowship knew of Mary. But why was such a momentous occasion as the coming of God as a human baby not part of the apostolic writings for three or four decades after Christ’s Passion?

Let it not be said that the significance of the Nativity was not taught in the decades before the story of the Nativity was written down. We hear not about the Nativity directly but about its significance from Saint Paul’s epistle to Titus today: “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us.” Certainly this can be interpreted as applying to being born of Mary in Bethlehem, announced to the shepherds by the angelic choir, “Glory to God in the highest!” But the language of Paul’s teaching here is primarily not the Nativity, but, its significance for our lives. Paul’s teaching about how our Saviour appears in our hearts and minds—how He is born in us, that we may grow up in stature according to His image in us. Paul continues: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,” [note: this is baptismal teaching!] “which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” Paul, as he so often does, is pointing to the baptismal life of Christians who participate in the day to day liturgical and devotional ferment of the Church. Paul is as much reflecting on Christ’s appearing to us within the life of the threefold Regula as he is about Christ’s appearing to Joseph and Mary and the animals.

The reason the specific account from Luke and Matthew showed up later, long after Paul’s letters, Peter’s letters and the rest, is not that it was unknown until Luke and Matthew wrote about it, but rather because the story of the birth of Jesus fermented in the life of the Church’s prayer and was interpreted in light of the Cross, in the light of Christ’s voluntary self-offering of Himself to die. The Church needed, in other words, to grapple with the end before it the true significance of the beginning could be revealed. The details in Luke bear witness to this. The baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths—wrapped like a body prepared for burial, and the images and icons of the Church bring this out strongly. He was laid in a manger—this is an eating trough, where food and water is placed for animals is where Christ was laid. Why? Because He offered Himself as flesh to be eaten sacramentally: we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and so He was placed on the manger, which takes on the symbolism of an Altar. And why all this? Because there was no room of them in the inn—because Christ came to Jerusalem for Passover on a donkey only to be killed there but a few days later, because there was no place for Him in their hearts, yet. Yet—until all was finished on the Cross, Christ having ascended the Cross and asked the Father to bestow upon the Church the Coming of the Holy Ghost.

As Christians, we begin in the Cross, and only then find the unspeakable beauty and wordless profundity of the Nativity. Brothers and sisters, continue these twelve days of Christmas to put the Lord’s nativity in your remembrance, meditating on the paradox of it all: that God shows Himself as a baby, that this Child was born in purity in order to die and forgive the darkness and sin of the world—indeed that God came to the world as a wee baby that He might be born in our hearts day by day in our prayer.

On the Nativity of Christ

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.

On Stations of the Cross in our Lives

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Palm Sunday, 2019

We have entered today into a contemplation of the mighty acts of God whereby our salvation comes: an experience that we will spend the next 68 days reflecting upon—the Paschal mystery, the mystery of Our Lord’s Passover from life to death, from death to resurrection, from resurrection to ascension, from ascension to the coming of His Holy Ghost, and from the Coming of the Holy Ghost finally to the Eucharist, the primary means of His presence among us today. The portion of the liturgical calendar over those 68 days is today, Palm Sunday, through the feast of Corpus Christi, always on a Thursday, this year on June 20. This is the mystery of God, and within His mystery—a mystery that is transcendent of time and space, transcendent of our categories of thought, transcendent as once for all time, a mystery that being transcendent of time and space, has no beginning or end, but is happening right now and in all moments—all moments of reality have within them the life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, pentecostal and eucharistic truth of Christ—all of Christian reality being made sacramental by God’s actions—within this mystery of God is the mystery of the Church, and the mystery of prayer, and the mystery of our spiritual lives.

When we proclaimed at the beginning of our liturgy, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” we joined the angels—for this is always their song proclaimed to God as the thousands and ten thousands of them are gathered around the heavenly throne. “Holy, holy, holy,” the angels sing, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Our liturgy indeed is a divine liturgy of the angels.

And it all begins with Jesus, riding on a colt. It begins with the King of all creation—Who was King of all creation at all moments in His life, the King walking among His creatures, the Light through Whom all creatures are made, the Light among the darkness, shining in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not—the King riding not on a magnificent horse-drawn chariot bedazzled and bespeckled with gems and jewels befitting a secular king, but riding in His humility. He enters in humility into the City that had been the center of His human existence from the beginning, because to Jerusalem His parents brought Him every year at the Passover; He memorably stayed back one year when He was twelve, to teach us all that the sacred house of prayer—for Him, the Temple; for us the Parish church—is where the truth of the Father is made known to us through His Son.

“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He taught Mary and Joseph, and through them, us. The mystery of this house, which is the mystery of the Church, is one in which we ask how we are a part of this house, indeed a member of this house, for as baptized people, we are members of His Body, the Church. And as Jesus entered as a horse, so too the beaten man in the parable of the Good Samaritan was brought to the inn on a horse—the wounds of the beaten man were physical and of the flesh: the wounds of Christ spiritual and of the soul, and soon to be physicaland of the flesh, as we. He knew He was entering into His death, by His Father’s will.

Saint Paul teaches us to have this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. This mystery—which is all fact—this mystery we are always to have in mind among ourselves; when Saint Paul exhorts the parish at Corinth to imitate him in being stewards of the mysteries of God, the Apostle exhorts us as well. Our identity together is not through friendship, kinship, shared hobbies, life pursuits or interest in sports teams. Our identity together is entirely rooted in this man Who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross—Who in utter humility reveals transcendent righteousness and our salvation.

Throughout Lent we have prayed the Stations of the Cross at both of our congregations, and many of us in our own homes. At each station Our Lord becomes poorer and poorer, debased and deformed at each station so that by the end, He is unrecognizable. And when Saint Mary Magdalene meets Him at the empty tomb, His unrecognizability is taken yet further: He looks not like Himself but like a gardener; and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus walk the whole way there not recognizing Jesus with them. Our Lord chose for His human likeness to be deformed and removed so that He could be found again after His resurrection—found in many ways, but especially so that He could be found in the poor, the abandoned, the suffering—found in people today who are suffering in loneliness, the worst human disease.

We made our Stations of the Cross, the fourteen of them around our church, not so that when we reach the fourteenth we would stop, but so that we would continue to make our stations of the cross in our lives. There are men and women and children in our county who today are suffering, and in their suffering, Jesus lives His passion. Each lonely person is a Station of the Cross, are we there? And people when they fall, because they stumble in their troubles, that is a station of the Cross—are we there, to help them pick up their cross as Simon of Cyrene was there? And the lonely people we see in our neighborhood—will we be the those who look and do not see? Let us look and see.

And as we make our Stations of the Cross, as Jesus taught His disciples they are to do—to love the least of His brethren—let us always have the joy we share at Jesus entering into Jerusalem—hosanna in the highest. All glory, laud and honor—this is our joy, for the joy that empowers of loving of the lonely is Jesus, and all we do, we do for Him. Because He did everything for us.

Homily: “On the Holiness of Eternal Light”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the First Sunday after Christmas, 2017. In our Collect, we have acknowledged to God and affirmed it to be true that our loving Lord, the God of all creation, the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen, has poured upon us the new light of His incarnate Word. And this incarnate Word is Jesus Christ, the newborn King. Upon the announcement of His birth by the archangel Gabriel, the Angels sang triumphantly. Upon the announcement of His birth, the Light of Heaven came into our world of darkness and confusion. Upon the announcement of His birth, all of the world is at peace: the conditions of our time and space are transcended, forever giving us a window to heaven in the embrace of Blessed Mary, Blessed Joseph her most chaste spouse, and the Christ child. For in the embrace of this Holy Family we see love itself dynamic, love itself embodied, love itself pure and holy. It is in this holiness of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we share each Christmastide—the holiness of this eternal Light—as so how fitting our Collect is, that we ask God to grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives. For we are taught by our loving Lord Jesus not to hide our light under a bushel, but to put the light on a stand, that it gives light to all in the house. Read more “Homily: “On the Holiness of Eternal Light””

Homily: “Advent and Acceptance”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

I hope not too many of you were thrown by the inclusion of our first hymn on this, the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. If you were, let me say a couple things. First, it is perfectly understandable to have been thrown. As a child and particularly a teenager, I would have wondered what is going on to sing this obviously Christmas hymn at church before Christmas Eve. Not a theological objection, but an objection along the lines of the “church’s national anthem”—but that’s the way we have always done it.

Secondly, if in singing this hymn you are brought into the spirit of Christmas—well, there are much worse things to be brought into, and with Christmas a week away, I do not suspect this feeling is out of line in the eyes of God. After all, we are surrounded by reminders of Christmas everywhere we look in Tazewell County and elsewhere, everywhere we listen in grocery and department stores.

Read more “Homily: “Advent and Acceptance””