Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of Christmas
St John of God Hospital Bendigo
Isaiah 62:1-5 Acts13: 16-17, 22-25; Matt 1:1-25
Christmas is a feast of faith in an age in which many find faith puzzling, remote and vaguely disturbing. Yet here, in the baby of Bethlehem, the invitation of faith is seen in its simplest and most lovely moment. Amidst the razzmatazz of parties, the crib whispers its appeal: ‘Come and see; come and see this child.’ This child, in all his vulnerability and poverty, is God bending down to be in our midst, to be one of us, for evermore.
As we look, we wonder: Who is this child? What does he bring? What will become of him? Our three readings provide insight into the incarnation and birth of our Saviour.
Our 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.
In the Acts of the Apostles, St Paul gives a brief history of the Jewish people leading up to St John the Baptist and the appearance of Jesus, the Saviour of his people. Here too, there is the emphasis on the continuity between the Jewish people and the emergence of Jesus as a Saviour arising from among them –their Saviour and ours!
Then in St Matthew’s Gospel, in the longer version containing the genealogy of Jesus, you might wonder why on earth we have that list of names? By giving us this list, Matthew is emphasizing that 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.
This is further emphasised by his telling in the second part of the Gospel, which we have just heard, how Jesus came to be. The conception, the beginning of the life of the Child. Clearly, the agent of bringing the new life into existence is not Joseph but God himself. It is God who is the Father of the Child and Mary is his mother. This is the Incarnation, when the Word of God is made flesh and begins to live among us. Our 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.
St Matthew’s account gives us great insight into the integrity of Joseph. In today’s world, integrity is often compromised and yet it is a precious gift needed by the Church as a whole and by each one of us. Integrity means that we are everything we proclaim to be, that there is no hidden agenda, no false fronts but total transparency. “What you see is all there is.”
For many, a great part of the problem is the failure by modern society to provide a sense of meaning, of belonging and purpose in our lives. Many no longer feel part of a community, or as valued members of society. Consequently, these people are left without hope or optimism.
The Christmas story, however, lifts our aspirations. In it, we find cause for hope and optimism. Christmas glows with a special kind of light. It celebrates the belief that a divine light has been sparked in the world. The point of this light, is a child and we are drawn, irresistibly, to the light He radiates. The sparkle of Christmas reflects a belief that we are capable of achieving and doing good, regardless of wealth or status. The Christmas experience inspires us to transcend our limitations.
Christmas offers options to the individual - compassion rather than aggression; forgiveness instead of 'getting even'; humility instead of arrogance; love rather than hate. Christ presents us with the option to embrace a gentler, kinder society which, left to ourselves, seems to be beyond our reach. This choice is not a soft option. It requires a firm sense of responsibility for our individual actions and an appreciation of the worth of others.
The Christian understanding of God, in particular, is the story of an approach to life with God-made-man in the person of Christ. Christmas is rightly called the Feast of Emmanuel, which means God is with us.
And so, the question we ask ourselves as we celebrate this Feast of God's presence amongst us - are we really children of the Light; or do we scurry out of the darkness at this time of festivity to celebrate hastily and then return to the darkness of doubt, of fear, of cynicism? How different life is for those who really believe what they celebrate! May each of us this Christmas make more room for our God in our lives. This also means making more room for those through whom he speaks to us.
May I wish you all a very peaceful and happy Christmas. May the day ahead, and those which follow, be marked by the peace which the Christ-child brings, which is more profound, and more lasting than any happiness we can achieve or purchase for ourselves.
May God bless you and your families now and in the coming New Year.