29 Dec Christmas Day, Midnight Mass
Archbishop Brendan O’Brien
The birth of Jesus as described in tonight’s gospel reading from St. Luke is one of the best known parts of the bible. We see it depicted on Christmas cards and expressed in the hymns we sing. Most people, even young children know its details: the census, the manger, the swaddling clothes, the shepherds and the angels’ song.
There is something about the story of Jesus birth with which we can all identify because it is a very human story that tugs at the heart: the fact that Mary and Joseph were displaced from their hometown, that there was no room for them at the inn. This part of the Christmas story we have a feel for; we can imagine and identify with the hardships as well as with the joy of giving birth to a child even under these difficult circumstances. But, of course, it is more than just a story about the human condition.
St. John in the Prologue to his Gospel helps us to get at its deeper meaning; he starts the Prologue with the phrase “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”.
Then St, John says “This Word was coming into the world. He was in the world which had its being through him”.
The feast of Christmas is about that point in time when the Word, the Son of God from all eternity, entered our world to share in our human condition. This was the singular moment, the point when the divine mystery, the infinite, the ineffable majesty of God took on human flesh.
When we try to express this momentous happening we naturally reach into the language of the Bible, the Old Testament. This morning it is the image of light in darkness from the prophet Isaiah to which we turn.
We know that, when all is dark, the power of even a flickering candle is most welcome so that we can find our bearings and not trip or fall. However, Isaiah does not speak of a flickering candle but compares the birth of the Messiah to a great light that dispels the deep darkness in which the people live. This light is the child who will bring much joy, will lift the yoke of their burden; will bring peace and justice.
As Christians we use this description of the Messiah from Isaiah, to describe the coming of Christ into our world. For with his birth, God is liberating us from sin and evil and ushering in a new way of living.
When we sing a hymn like “O Come Divine Messiah” it is good to keep in mind that there are three dimensions to Christ’s coming: first, the time when the grace of God appeared in the past, then secondly the time when Christ will come again at the end of time, and finally, there is now, today, when, being attentive to God’s grace, we try to live lives that express who we are as this people who live in between these two moments of the incarnation and the second coming.
What happened at Bethlehem is meant to be completed in Christ’s coming into each of our lives, into our world of the 21st century; this coming is still a work in progress. And so Christmas is not just a nostalgic look back, nor a hope-filled look forward, it is a grace-filled present moment.
When we use those words of Isaiah that we find in the 1st reading and speak of Jesus as Wonder-Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace we are seeking to convey the message that in the Word made flesh, a new “era” has begun. But the story of salvation that we celebrate this morning is quite an unfinished one. We just have to look around us and we see the burdens people bear: be they spiritual, psychological or material and the poverty and violence which is still part of so many lives.
“The light has shone in the darkness “, showing the way but it requires today light-carrying people who by their commitment to Christ will continue to communicate Christ’s love and light. As the 2nd reading reminds us: Christ came into our world “to redeem us from iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14)
This is how the work of salvation moves forward through the minds and hearts and hands of those who respond to God’s gift of Himself to them.
So at Christmas we are 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 called 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. I hope that your celebration of this feast will be an opportunity for God to touch your life with his loving and healing presence and encourage you to carry the light of Christ’s love to others.
A blessed Christmas to all