29 Dec Christmas Day, 10:30 am Mass
Archbishop Brendan O’Brien
The birth of Jesus as described in Luke’s Gospel is one of the best known stories in the bible. It is the gospel passage which was proclaimed at the Mass during the night as we began the celebration of Christmas. We see its description of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem depicted on Christmas cards and in the hymns we sing. Even young children know its details: the census the swaddling clothes, the manger, the shepherds and the angels’ song.
When we look at a Christmas crib or Nativity scene, there is something there in the account of Jesus birth that tugs at the heart: the fact that there was no room for him, that Mary and Joseph were displaced from their hometown. This part of the Christmas story we have a feel for; we can imagine and identify with the hardships and with the joy of giving birth to a child even under these circumstances.
What is more difficult for us to grasp is who this child is and how and why the Son of God from all eternity has become one of us. This is not easy to comprehend because it is beyond our experience.
The readings for the Mass on Christmas Day do not recount the scene in Bethlehem rather they try to help us to interpret it and see the deeper meaning of that story. They help us to see what it is we really celebrate at Christmas.
In a rather obvious way, the feast of Christmas commemorates that point in time when the Son of God from all eternity entered our world to share in our human condition. This was the singular moment when the divine mystery, the infinite, the ineffable majesty of God took on human flesh. This is expressed so well in our gospel passage this morning where it speaks of the Word of God from all eternity through whom all things came to be was coming into the world became flesh and lived among us.
When we want to express this momentous happening we naturally reach into the language of the Bible, the Old Testament which in our first reading describes a messenger running swiftly over the mountains bearing a message of peace and salvation. In this scene the people have been desolate for so long, waiting for a ray of hope and now it has come. God comforts and redeems the people dwelling within the ruins of Jerusalem. As Christians we see this victory described by the prophet Isaiah as a way of expressing our own joy at the coming of God among us in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh.
But our Christmas celebration is not just a remembrance of a great event in the past no matter how momentous it is. There is something very present about our celebration of Christmas. Christ did not only take flesh in Mary’s womb; he became flesh in order to join himself to our lives with all its sorrows and joys.
As St. John says in the gospel:He came into the world for a purpose to give us the power to become children of God. So what began at Bethlehem is not yet complete. The “physical” incarnation took place that night in Bethlehem when the Christ child was born. But the “mystical” coming of Christ into each of us, into our lives, into our world of the 21st century is still a work in progress.
Ever since the first Christmas, Christ seeks a response from us; God has become human not just to be with us but so that we might share in the divine life. This is what we prayed in the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass. “Grant we pray that we may share in the divinity of Christ who humbled him to share in our m humanity.”
With the Word of God made flesh, a new “era” has begun. God is with us, God is close to us in the person of Jesus, the human face of the Father. But the story of salvation is quite an unfinished one. There is still oppression, people carry many burdens some spiritual, some psychological some material. The light shines in the darkness but each generation must come in contact with the light. This requires light-carrying people who by their commitment to Christ will communicate Christ’s light and love. This is how the work of salvation moves forward through the minds and hearts and hands of those who have accepted God’s gift of Himself to them.
So as you can see Christmas is not just recalling a birthday, a long ago event from the bible. At Christmas we celebrate the very pattern of the Christian life: God’s goodness and generosity on the one hand and on the other, the choice we are being invited to make: to respond in love to Christ and to one another.
On my own behalf and on behalf of the rector of the Cathedral, Fr., Shawn Hughes, Deacon Blaine Barclay and all who serve here, I want to wish you a Blessed Christmas. In doing so, I hope that our celebration of this feast today
is an occasion to enter into conversation with God, that it is an opportunity for God to touch your life with his healing presence which will encourage you to do the same, to carry the light of Christ’s love to others.
A blessed Christmas to you all.