Homily: Christmas Vigil Mass, St John of God Hospital

Christmas Vigil Mass
St John of God Hospital

Isa 62:1-5; Ps 89:4-29; Acts 13:16-25; Matt 1:1-25
Tonight we begin a joyful celebration of the Birth of Christ, our Messiah and Saviour. We celebrate the reasons for the past four weeks of spiritual and material preparations. We celebrate the reasons for those soft and beautiful Christmas carols including “O Come all ye faithful...  and Silent Night...” that have echoed in our homes and over the radio in these last days.

We are celebrating also, the reasons why we will soon gather to exchange beautiful gifts and meals with our children, spouses, neighbours, our loved ones, friends and relatives.  Meals and gifts that represent the love, the peace and reconciliation that the Christ child brings us at Christmas.

Tonight’s three readings combined, sum up beautifully the context in which the Child Jesus will be born in the strange surroundings of a stable in Bethlehem. All is now about to be fulfilled for each one of us, as we prepare this evening to celebrate the birth of God’s Son among us, as one of us.

The First Reading is a beautiful passage from Isaiah. It is a message of consolation for Zion but can easily be applied to the Church and to all of us in the community of Christ who look forward to the birth and the coming of our Saviour.

The opening of Matthew’s Gospel tells of the genealogy of Jesus and Mathew’s version of the birth of Jesus. Many find this a rather boring and incomprehensible list of unpronounceable names. But if we went through that list of names in a little more detail, we would learn something about the kind of people from whom Jesus was descended. They were by no means all saints: in fact there are some real ruffians among them.

By giving us this list of names Matthew is emphasising, especially to the Jews of his day, that Jesus’ lineage goes back to the very beginnings of Israelite history beginning with Abraham, the father of the nations, and including David, Jesus’ kingly ancestor. Jesus is the natural continuation of God’s long connection and involvement in the history of his people. He is in fact the long awaited climax to that history. He is the Messiah King.

From these readings, we come to appreciate more who Jesus was; his origin and the role of his virtuous parents.  We come to appreciate Jesus’ link and his identity with the history of God’s people, the Jews and the Gentiles. It is mystery of God becoming man and dwelling among us.  Jesus comes into the world without the drama and display of pomposity; encouraging us to be humble and not to always rely on, or to seek human applause. The disposition of Mary and the care of Joseph are exemplary, and challenging to us - modern families, parents and educators.

The spiritual significance of this story cannot be overestimated. Jesus is born poor and is visited first by the poor shepherds. The shepherds were the first to receive the news of Jesus’s birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks.

Together with them, let us pause before the Child. Let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us praise him from the depths of our hearts: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are great, yet you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and yet you made yourself vulnerable. On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness.

The songs of the angel “Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will” - assure us the peace, the tender love of God and reconciliation that Christ brings us at Christmas. This song challenges all forms of violence and terrorism, personal and institutional.

As Christians who celebrate the birth of Christ, we are called to take up this mood of reconciliation and joyful peace, realizing that the humble birth in Bethlehem of Christ, our Saviour, speaks of the tender love of God for us his people. Our response entails accepting his saving love, and then sharing this divine love with one another.

May the blessings and love of the little Christ Child be yours this Christmas!