Christmas Nativity 2017

Christmas Homily 2017


We had our living nativity this year at St. Gabriel’s.  The good news is none of the animals got loose.   It actually happened here about 20 years ago with Fr. Pahler, and I think even Fr. Brady was chasing after a cow or sheep on Johnnycake Ridge Rd.

It actually did happen this year at a Living Nativity: “Stormy” the cow got loose twice!

Police also joked and tweeted:  “If you’re in the area of 4th and Market, beware of traffic delays. A cow is loose. Again. No, we can’t believe we’re tweeting this either.”

There was a concern of bringing The Living Nativity back here because of the risk of having live animals.  You never know what they are going to do.

What made this time extra special was not so much the live animals but for the first time we also had live people playing the wise men, shepherd’s, Mary Joseph and even a four-month-old who was baby Jesus.

It was a cold day so Beth, who teaches at our school, played mary.  She was holding had her child swaddled in a blanket and completely covered.

The most beautiful moment for me was watching the children approach the animals and wondering if the baby was real.

One little girl “Brynlee,” said to “Mary”… can I see baby Jesus.   She said, of course, you can.  She gently pulled back the blanket to reveal the baby’s face and Brynlee’s face on lit up with wonder and awe.  Numerous children would ask to see the baby and if it was real.

My nephew said to my mother: “Grandma is that… is that really who I think it is?”

What he was asking was not only “Is that Baby Real?  But is that baby the real Jesus?”

Today in a very mysterious way we celebrate the answer to that question: Yes.

How could it be?  Let me explain.

The angel proclaimed to the shepherds: “good news of great joy.”  That there would be a sign for them: “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

2000 Years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem as a real baby, in a real place and in a real time.  It really happened.  He was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes laid in a manger.  He grew up, be baptized, suffer, die, rise from the dead, ascend into heaven and then this is what makes him real today: He sent his Holy Spirit to be in his church, and he revealed to us how to experience him “for real” in The Eucharist.

You see originally he was born in a manger in Bethlehem.  You may not realize this but the word “manger” is not the barn or the cave but the feeding trough that he was laid in.  The word manger comes from the French word “Mangeure”  to chew… or think of the Italian “Mange” Eat up!  And he was born in “The House of Bread.”  Do you notice the connections to Eucharist today?

He becomes bread for us to eat and is born now at every mass on the altar.

He is as real today as he was on Christmas 2000 years ago.  But 2,000 years ago he was born as a child and wrapped in linens and laid in a manger – Today he is born for us at the mass.

Now here is the challenge.  When Jesus was born 2,000 years ago he was overlooked by many – there was no room for him at the Inn!  So often today we don’t make room for him our lives.  We don’t come to mass expecting to see Him.  We might not believe that he is REAL.

Do you believe in your heart that Jesus was real?
Do you believe that in His Real Presence in The Eucharist?
Do you believe that He is Real today in the mass?

Just like the Shepherds we may need some guidance to find him.

Here’s the guidance:

Jesus is Real in the Nativity.

The children asked if the baby was really Jesus and the truth is: “Yes that child is baptized, and because of her baptism she is Jesus for the world today.

Jesus is Real in the Mass.

Jesus is real in the Body of Christ most especially when we are gathered together at mass.  Remember if it is real you never know what to expect.

There are traditionally four ways we experience him for real at every mass:

First, He is Real in the Word proclaimed.  Sometimes people say I don’t hear God speak to me.  Well,  He speaks to you at every mass in the Word – all you have to do is listen to the readings and catch one word, and it could change your life forever.

Jesus is Real in the person of the priest – just like the baby Jesus we can truly say Jesus is present in the priest at mass.  Believe it or not, you can experience Him through the priest though human.

Jesus is Real in the Eucharist.  Just as Jesus was born and laid in a manger as a sign of food, now he is laid on the altar as a sign of food for us.  We believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  If you look close enough with wonder and awe, you can experience Him in The Real Presence.

Jesus is Real in the assembled Body of Christ.  Every one of you that hear’s his word and receives communion become His real body.
That’s why it’s so important that we come and gather every Sunday We need to experience him in each other gathered together.  His body is not complete without you.  *If you have been away from mass he is inviting you back right now.  If you have been away from the mass, make it your new years resolution to go to confession and come to mass every Sunday.

Finally, if we have experienced him in the Mass, He will become Real in our lives!

We can experience him every day in prayer and in signs throughout our day.
To experience this “Realness,” We have to come with wonder in awe! We may need to first go to confession so and experience Him in the Sacrament.

But we also have to come to every mass with wonder and awe!

Jesus is real – He is visible – but only to those who approach him with wonder and awe.

Many people walked by without noticing the baby under the blankets.

Think about the Nativity 2,000 years ago – Jesus was born into the world… but how many people experienced it… remember there was no room for him in the inn.  He was born in a stable and laid in a manger.

Today he is born in the hands of the priest and laid on the altar.  How many notice it?

Just as the animals were real in the living nativity and the baby was real and brought wonder and awe to the childlike like Brinlee so is Jesus today.

This Christmas we celebrate that Jesus is Real.  He was real in the nativity, he is real in the mass, and he is real in your lives – Merry Christmas!

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.