Shade and Darkness 1843
'The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light' Isaiah 9:1
Tuesday, 25th December 2012
Saint George's Cathedral, Southwark
The Birth of Christ - Antoine Pesne - 1745
Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
In the first reading of tonight’s Mass we listened to the prophet Isaiah giving a wonderful message of hope to the suffering people of Israel. They had become discouraged and disheartened and had begun to believe that God had abandoned them. Isaiah speaks the word of God to them and tells them that the time would come when “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone … For there is a child born for us, a son given to us … and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
Tonight we celebrate with joy that this prophecy was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on the first Christmas night. Or to put it in the words of St. Paul in his letter to Titus, in the birth of Jesus, “God’s grace is revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race.” That is why we rejoice tonight as we share once again St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus Christ and the news of great joy which the angel announced to the shepherds, “a joy to be shared by the whole people for today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Those words of the angel, recorded by St. Luke, sum up the meaning and importance of this great feast of Christmas. In this new born baby nestling in the crib, “we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see." To understand and appreciate that, we need hearts full of faith. We need hearts which are thrown open to receive the greatest gift God could ever have given us - the gift of himself, the gift of his unconditional love for each one of us.
The whole of human history, the whole of salvation history over the centuries had been moving, under the influence of God’s Holy Spirit, towards that moment when God would reveal himself in an utterly unique way. And he revealed himself not in an earth shattering display of divine power, but in the humble birth of a vulnerable little child. It was a birth which took place in the most inauspicious circumstances in an obscure town in Palestine: in the darkness of a cold night, when the people were totally wrapped up in themselves and their own concerns, unheeding and insensible to the needs of a young woman who desperately needed somewhere to give birth to her child.
On that first Christmas night, the Son of God emptied himself of glory and came down from heaven to be one with us in all things but sin. He didn’t come to condemn us, nor to lord it over us, nor to manipulate or control us. He didn’t come with any worldly ambition to be successful and powerful in the eyes of the world. He came speaking the language of self-giving love, and in so doing revealed to us that God is love. He came to show us, through his life and ministry, the way of love, the way of truth, the way of life. He wanted to convince us that real power, true fulfilment, and true greatness is to be found only in the unconditional love and service of God and our fellow men and women.
It is only in the steady, unwavering light of God's love for us, manifested in the Incarnation, that we can find the courage and the strength to face our sinfulness, our own darkness, whatever that might be, and the darkness which, though not within us, sometimes surrounds each one of us. The challenge for you and me is to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ in our own times, by making our own unique contribution to the task of healing human brokenness, to fostering peace and harmony in human relationships, and to bringing a little light into the darkness and confusion of the world we live in.
In this Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict, we are given a threefold challenge. First to renew and deepen our personal faith in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and to spend a little time each day building up that relationship by listening to the word of God speaking deep in our hearts. As we know from our human experience, relationships suffer, fade away and ultimately disappear if they are neglected. God wants us to relate to him, he wants us to abide with him so that we come to know him and deepen our love for him, because our relationship with him is life-giving.
Secondly we are challenged to bring the light of the Gospel to the society in which we live; as disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to witness to the truth that he revealed in his life and teaching - the truth about the meaning and purpose of human life, the truth about what it means to be truly human. His teaching has as its focal point the human person, because it was for us weak, flawed and sinful human beings that he came: for us that he suffered, died and rose again; to us that he offers the gift of God’s life and love. So the Holy Father is encouraging us to know and understand our faith and the truths of faith more deeply so that we can explain it to those who have not yet received the gift of faith.
Thirdly, Jesus Christ lived a life of loving service of others and he commands us to do the same: “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” (Jn.13:15) So the third challenge is to ask God’s grace to see his presence in our neighbour, especially the neighbour who suffers, or who lacks what is essential to human flourishing, and to reach out to them in love. In relieving our neighbour's suffering and meeting our neighbour's needs, we are serving Christ himself and for the Christian, therefore, there can be no higher privilege or duty.
So Christmas is pre-eminently a season of hope. Hope in the goodness and love of God for each one of us, and hope that his light will continue to shine out in a world which can sometimes become very dark. Jesus Christ wants that light to continue shining in you and in me. So, dear brothers and sisters, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice, for the Lord is very near.” May God in his goodness give you the gifts of wonder and joy, the peace and the hope of Christmas, and may the Holy Spirit confirm, strengthen and renew in you the gifts of faith, hope and love which he gave you in your baptism, so that your joy may be complete.