Fr. Charles Irvin
Not only is Christmas just in front of us, so is New Years Day, and with them thoughts of significant events in our human history. With the recent arrival of both this new century and our new millennium we were presented with articles and books about the significant lives of those men and women who have shaped our times, our culture and our history. Indeed, if you go shopping in a bookstore you’ll find books about the most significant battles in history, the most significant artists, poets and musicians, as well as the most significant this, that or the other thing.
What, then, of the most significant babies in history? Ought we not to pay attention to all that babies can and do mean for us? They, each one of them, offer us hope for our futures.
My own birth meant an awful lot to my mother and father back in January of 1933. The Great Depression was upon them. Adolph Hitler was on his rise to despotic power. Their lives were lived under a terrible darkness. Their marriage was in trouble. Darkness and depression surrounded them… and I was born to them, thus changing everything for them.
The year 1933 was a tough year for millions of people. Yet in that year the lives of Larry King, Flip Wilson, Robert Goulet, Regis Philbin, Joan Rivers, Johnny Unitas, Carol Brunett, Yoko Ono, Charles Osgood, and Willie Nelson began, to mention only a very few. Across the world there were others, I am sure, others perhaps more renowned, more significant.
The remarkable thing to note is how ordinary those births were. Each these persons were born to ordinary men and women, ordinary fathers and mothers. Yet God was at work, as He always is, in His own hidden ways, ways hidden in what appears to be ordinary.
In today’s Gospel account we find two babies, each living their hidden lives in their mothers’ wombs, interacting with each other for the first time. They were the most significant babies in human history engaged in their first encounter with each other. Their first encounter with each other was more than just a noteworthy event. God was at work in this world’s darkness, in this world’s gloom and doom, bringing into human life a Light that no darkness can ever overcome, a Love that no hatred can ever vanquish, a Life over which death itself is powerless.
Babies bring with them the awareness of the sacred significance of each and every human life. No two babies in human history brought to us the magnitude of that awareness more significantly than John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. They brought with them the truth that God becomes uniquely present to us in each and every unique human person. Each one of us is fashioned by God in our mother’s womb and made to be in His own image and likeness. Each person brings to us the possibility and the opportunity to care — to get out of the prison of our own selfish interests and self-centeredness and give our care and concern to a significant other.
In an age of moral relativism, child abandonment, child neglect, and child abuse remain universally condemned by all, regardless of their religious beliefs. These things horrify even so-called “non-believers”. All men and women of good will, in all cultures, immediately respond to children who need care, love, protection and support. Love’s insistent call comes to us universally in a little child.
All of this ought to summon us to take a good look at our own selves. Do we recognize our unique worth and value? Do we see that we have been and can yet be a decisive person for others in our lives? If we consider ourselves to be worthless and of little value, then we ought to ask ourselves if Jesus Christ suffered and died for nothing when He suffered and died for us. To say that we are of little, if any, value to anyone means we’re telling God that He failed miserably when He fashioned us in our mother’s womb and thus brought us into life.
When we acknowledge that Jesus Christ was the decisive baby in all of human history we do not thereby diminish our own self worth, our own value. On the contrary it is a statement that because He was a decisive baby I am a decisive baby… I am a decisive person.
To be sure our world is covered in darkness. Wars, poverty, human abuse, discrimination, hatred, and the presence of evil are at work in our world, even now as we speak. We can legitimately ask if human nature is in a better place today than it was at the time when John the Baptist and Jesus Christ encountered each other for the first time over 2,000 years ago. But the fact of human failure doesn’t point to the failure of Christianity, it only serves to heighten our awareness of Christ’s value, particularly His value in being made human flesh, in becoming one of us.
Our celebration of New Years is only a few days off. The new year will be depicted as a little child — a little child representing hope, love, caring and belief in our future as he is bid welcome by the old man who is depicted as handing over this tired old world to his New Year’s child.
As I pointed out beginning this homily, the year 1933 was heavily weighted with darkness and gloom. But I remember that 1933 was also the year that the first concrete was poured to begin construction of Hoover Dam. That first poured concrete is still there, poured at a time in which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously challenged us with the words “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” If fear had prevailed there would be no Hoover Dam standing today.
God has come to us in Jesus Christ. What fears, then, should be allowed to control us? Light shines in our darkness; love comes to us in a little child. Our future awaits us. May all of the promise of Christmas be yours now in this season and in the future we all share together in Christ Jesus. We stand, as Pope John Paul II has challenged us: “on the threshold of hope.”
[Note to homilists: You can change this context of this homily to suit your circumstances by visiting http://www.famousbirthdays.com/]