Homily: Christmas Mass during the night 2017

Sacred Heart Cathedral
Isa 9:1-6; Ps 96:1-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

The Christmas story is more than just a fascinating fairy-tale: a wonderful story of simplicity set in the bleak and austere beauty of a cold winter’s night in Bethlehem.

The prophet Isiah has reminded us that ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined’ (Is 9:1). St Luke’s gospel tells us ‘An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds   and the glory of the Lord shone around them’ (Lk 2:9). This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Saviour: as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people, cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.

Our Christmas Mass celebrates a simple yet astounding event – so simply expressed, yet so radical in its reach. Tonight we celebrate God coming to his people. Tonight he comes to us, in the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

We gather as a people who fret and puzzle over the reality of God, at times resisting the invitation to believe, and at times protesting against it. Yet here we see the coming of God into our midst, into our history, simply to be with us, a babe; without threat or coercion, just wanting to say ‘Here I am. Come to me.’

We find a description of ourselves in the First Reading, from the Prophet Isaiah: a people who know what it is to walk in darkness, who feel the burdens of life, at times like a yoke or a bar across our shoulders; a people who are familiar with anger and even bloodshed.

Isaiah promised that a light would come and a leader who would establish peace, beginning in our own hearts. Indeed, we remember from the Old Testament that God has always sought out his people, with leaders, kings and prophets. But now, in the fullness of time, he comes in our flesh, as a child.

In this way the words that God wants to speak to us are so clear. God speaks to us of tenderness and hope, to quote the words of Pope Francis. When God meets us he tells us two things: The first is ‘have hope’. This is so important as of ourselves we can easily lose heart. But God always open doors for us, he never closes them. He opens the doors of compassion, mercy and forgiveness that we can lift up our heads again and go forward in hope of his unswerving love.

The second word that God speaks to us is ‘tenderness’. He says: ‘Do not be afraid of tenderness’. In the helplessness of the babe we see God so close to us, in such precarious circumstances, asking us not only to trust ourselves to him, but also to express ourselves to him with all the gentleness and tenderness that is in our hearts. This is the Lord of love who invites us into a relationship of love. And in all our loving, we show our own vulnerability and joy in the tenderness we have for each other. So too it is with the Lord, as this night makes so clear. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me?

Tonight’s Gospel reading places the birth of our Saviour firmly in a particular time and place. It is an historical fact. It happened. The witness of St Luke is trustworthy. In faith we pinpoint the moment and the manner in which God has unequivocally entered our history – the history of mankind and therefore the history of each one of us.

Tonight we have come to Bethlehem, to come to a manger and a new-born babe. In the light of the Christ-child, in the light of so many brave fellow disciples, tonight we seek to open our hearts again to welcome Christ into our lives, not simply as a consolation in our hardships but as the Lord, who alone can teach us the way to live each day. As St Paul said to the young Titus: ‘God’s grace has been revealed…. and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God….to be self-restrained and live good and religious lives…while we are waiting in hope…having no ambition except to do good’ (Titus 2.11-14).

We begin to celebrate Christmas at that moment in which we stop and pause, when we leave the hustle and bustle aside. Coming here this evening, we will all have somehow shifted gear emotionally, from the hustle of the preparation to this moment of collective calm and serenity which we share not just with one another, but with Christians all around the world, even in places torn apart by conflict; even in homes where relations are frayed; even among those who have no home, but who experience Christmas through the care of others. Christmas can and must change hearts.

This is the day on which God comes to meet us. Let us not go missing. Let him enter, let him lead, then we shall indeed be full of the joy of the knowledge and love of the Lord. Then we shall be ready to speak to others of the joy and consolation of our faith, inviting them to share with us in this pathway of life. This is the way of Christmas joy and it is my pleasure to wish you all, you and your families, a very holy and happy Christmas.