Jesus was born into a world without instant communication.
We are so used to being able to reach almost anyone at any time that we can take for granted that Christ - and Christianity - did not have those tools. But our faith exploded out of the Middle East, across the Roman Empire, and out into the rest of the world.
That happened because of a proclamation. The good news of Jesus was proclaimed by his disciples wherever they went and their preaching opened the hearts of people who would be touched by the Holy Spirit and become disciples themselves.
In Christian theology, there is a term for this initial proclamation of the gospel: kerygma. Kerygma is a fancy theological word for preaching the basic message of Christianity: that God has come among us and, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we can be saved. It was that powerful message that changed the world.
But it didn't just start when Jesus began preaching. It happened even before John the Baptist began preparing the way for Jesus.
The proclamation of the good news that our savior has its roots in the Old Testament. In our first reading, we heard from the prophet Isaiah that God himself will come to save his people.
As we prepared for Christmas, our Mass readings looked at the stories of people like Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who was visited by the angel Gabriel to announce that his son would prepare the way for the Messiah.
Then Gabriel visited Mary with even bigger news: that she would be the mother of the Son of God. Before she ever saw his face or heard his voice, Mary became the first disciple of Jesus - welcoming him into her very self.
Now, tonight, we hear the story we've heard so many times about the birth of Jesus; and even in these events, the Gospel is being proclaimed.
Joseph and Mary did not travel to Bethlehem so that the birth of Jesus would be world news. They were forced by the order of an emperor, thousands of miles away, to make this difficult journey. Not only did they have to deal with the birth of Jesus away from their home, but at that moment, they were homeless. There wasn't any hospital, there wasn't even a room in which they could stay.
Jesus was born anonymously - a stranger in a town that wasn't his own. He couldn't preach an eloquent sermon - he could only cry; but with his birth, God's message of love to the world was being proclaimed and people are coming to follow him.
The first are his mother Mary and his foster-father Joseph. They've both had messages from an angel preparing them for this moment, but now they are a family spending their first night with a newborn baby in a cave. Their journey will take them into exile in Egypt and finally back to their home in Nazareth where they will be responsible for raising the Son of God.
They followed Jesus.
Then the angels bring the message to the shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem. I love that the first words they speak to the shepherds are, "Do not be afraid." That tends to be what angels say to people when they appear in the Bible - "Do not be afraid, I have good news ..."
They say that because their presence and the glory of God must have been overwhelming. We've made them into beautiful men and women with wings in robes, but seeing these creatures was an experience the shepherds couldn't be prepared for; but when they hear the news - "a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord" - they become disciples of this baby whom they've never seen before. They make their way to worship the Lord.
In the coming days, we'l hear the story of the magi who came from the east, seeking the Lord.
Once again, Jesus' birth calls out to all humanity: this is the savior, come and follow him.
That is the message that God speaks to all of us tonight.
We've heard this story. We've seen nativity scenes all of our lives. We've celebrated Christmas every year.
It doesn't matter: we have the chance, once again, to hear the good news and follow the Lord. We have the chance to choose to live as a disciple of Jesus.
Think about all of these people who sought the Lord and found him in a manger. From that moment on, their lives were different. All of Jesus' disciples - starting with Mary, and later the Apostles and all those who followed him around the countryside hearing him preach, all the way through the history of the Church where men and women centered their lives around Jesus, and coming down to us in this church tonight - we are called by God to make Jesus Christ the most important thing in our lives.
That's what it means to be a disciple. To be transformed and entirely focused on Jesus.
It is only then that the birth of Jesus will take place in our hearts.
Let's make that commitment tonight. Even if we've celebrated Christmas many times, it can have a new impact on our faith if we renew our relationship with the Lord and leave this church committed to living for him.
From the very first moment of his existence on earth, Jesus has been proclaimed and disciples have come to follow him. What will you and I do, this Christmas, to be better disciples of Jesus Christ? How will we allow him to be the center of everything that we are and do? How will we allow him to transform our lives.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus because it is the beginning of our rebirth - when God frees us from slavery to sin and brings us into a relationship with himself, one that starts here on earth, but takes us into eternity.