Homily: Christmas Eve 2018

Sacred Heart Cathedral

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

Our hearts are filled with the tenderness of God’s love when we see little children kneeling in front of a Nativity scene. The little ones are fascinated, even awestruck, as the small statues, though motionless; act out the story of Christmas before their eyes.

A simple stable, animals, angels, a doting Mary and Joseph, and a newborn Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger – who can resist this beautiful scene?

The Nativity scene continues to attract us even as we grow older. Christmas retains an excitement that surpasses the glitter and the gifts, the decorations and the festivities. Most people, even those for whom Christmas may be a trying time, intuitively sense the approach of this “most wonderful time of the year.”

For some, though, the wonder of Christ’s Birth disappears as soon as the Christmas season ends. The decorations are put away, and so is the fascination with the Holy Family. The peace, joy and love of our Christmas greetings are abandoned as quickly as our New Year’s resolutions. I propose that now is the time to make an extra effort to keep Christmas throughout the year by getting closer to Jesus.

Wonder is a key to Christmas. In its secular form we find it in the eyes of children in shops, in Toyland, visiting Santa. For the believer Christmas will never reveal its secret if we do not allow ourselves to be lost in wonder. The Christmas Preface reminds us:

In him we see our God made visible and so are caught up in his love of the God we cannot see. It is of course the crib that will help us to appreciate the mystery. But there are several ways of approaching a crib. In Rome there is the custom of visiting the cribs in the various churches: there we find an exuberance of imagination, a variety of ways of presenting the scene, often with dozens of figures and buildings which allow us to recapture the miracle that is taking place in the very ordinariness of daily life in Palestine.

But any nativity scene, even the simplest, can speak to us. ‘Speak’ is somehow the right word. A crib is silent, nothing moves. But even as we allow ourselves to be drawn into its silence, it speaks to our hearts. It takes time for a crib to address us. We need to stay before it, not saying prayers, but allowing the sense of wonder and astonishment to take us over. To be ‘caught up in the love of the God we cannot see’ is to allow the crib to speak to our hearts rather than to our heads, its very stillness having a resonant eloquence.

Clearly the crib speaks to us of that peace which the world cannot give, and which is at the heart of the Christmas message. The very stillness of the crib breathes a peace that can still the anxieties and cares of our hearts, and draw us upwards towards a new vision of ourselves enveloped by the love of the God who came to us as a baby. Human wisdom, personal ambitions, the selfish grasping of people and of things, are humbled and healed in the silence of the crib. In the presence of this new revelation of God’s glory we can only remain in silence to allow his peace some greater entry into our lives, that peace which in the end is the only thing that will ever satisfy our restless hearts.

The meaning of the Preface at any Mass is to tell our God why, at this time, on this particular day, we are about to praise him by offering his Son Jesus on the altar. The marvelous first Christmas Preface permits us to get the right attitude for the celebration of the feast: praise, yes, but a praise that ultimately will draw us into a deeper worship of silent awe before a mystery that we cannot utter, but one that we can endlessly ponder:

In the wonder of the incarnation your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith a new and radiant vision of your glory.

In him we see our God made visible And so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see. Tonight we did not just wander into the Cathedral. We came on a spiritual journey –out of the world of what seems to be, into the world of what is, out of darkness into light. As we make that journey, we like the shepherds, catch a glimpse of the goal of all our journeying. And as I wish you all a very happy Christmas, let us understand why the song of the angels becomes our song here tonight, as we pray: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to us all here on earth”. Amen.