Archbishop
Peter's
Homily
at
Christmas
Midnight
Mass

2010

 

The Cathedral Crib



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The Good News is simple yet profound ...


Fra Filippo Lippi
Adoration of the Christ Child c. 1455
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

 

“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.”


The words of the prophet Isaiah, spoken so many centuries ago, look forward to the first Christmas which we recall and celebrate tonight. That prophecy was fulfilled and announced by the angel to the shepherds watching their flocks in the stillness of the night. “Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

The wonder, the great joy for the shepherds that night and for us today is that God loved us so much, that he sent his only Son to become like us in everything but sin. The whole of human history under the influence of God’s Holy Spirit, was moving 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. A birth which took place in the most difficult circumstances in an obscure town in Palestine: in the darkness of a cold night, when the people were wrapped up in themselves and their own concerns, unheeding and insensible to the needs of a young woman who was about to give birth to her child.

As St. Luke sees it, the great and the powerful ones of the world were so busy with their own ambitions and activities that they were blind to the coming into the world of the Prince of Peace. Perhaps that is why his birth was first announced to shepherds in the darkness and the danger of the night. In the society of his time these were the lowliest and least respected of all people. They were regarded as the dregs of society, excluded from the community and considered beyond the reach of God's grace and mercy. Yet it was to these poor, rejected and unvalued members of society that this “news of great joy” was announced by the angel of the Lord: the news of the birth of Jesus Christ who will bring light to those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. And it is surely not without significance that Jesus would later identify himself with these outcasts by calling himself the Good Shepherd who would give up his life for his sheep.

In this new born baby “we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.” This little child is, in St. John’s words, the 'Light of the world', who came to save us from our sins by revealing in his own person and life, the immense love of God for each and every one of us without exception. 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 vulnerable, 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.

So as Christ comes to us again tonight, wanting our friendship and our love, he comes not as a powerful, dominating and worldly “Lord”. No he comes as the Good Shepherd, asking to be admitted to our lives, to our homes, to our families. It is in that steady, unwavering light of God's unconditional love for us, revealed in the Incarnation, that we can find the courage and the strength to share in 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 that light and love of Christ into the world we live in.

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 for us. Whatever the appearances, whatever we might feel, whatever the apparent rejection of Christ and his message, we are called to believe, to trust, that Christ has come into our world to redeem it from sin and evil, and that his light will never be extinguished however much, from time to time, the contrary might appear to be true. We are called to hope, to believe and to trust that he will come again, and will finally restore all things in himself in a kingdom of love, justice and peace.

The great joy of Christmas, the good news, is simple yet profound: that no matter how deep or oppressive the darkness in our world or in our own hearts, the light of God's love and compassion is always brighter, stronger and more enduring. No one, absolutely no one, is excluded from the light and power of God's love, made flesh in Jesus Christ. 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 have given us - the gift of himself. So might make our prayer tonight: “Lord, open our ears that we may hear. Open our eyes that we may see. Open our hearts to welcome you into our lives.” Then with great joy and deep faith we can make our own the words of Zechariah: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel! He has visited his people and redeemed them. He has raised up for us a mighty saviour in the house of David his servant, as he promised by the lips of holy men, those who were his prophets from of old.”