Christmas (Midnight) Mass- Archbishop B. O’Brien

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien

Christmas Midnight Mass 2018

The birth of Jesus, as described in Luke’s Gospel, is one of the best-known stories in the Bible.  We depict it in our Nativity scenes and on Christmas cards, and we  celebrate it in the hymns we sing.  Even young children know its details:  the census, the swaddling clothes, the manger, the shepherds, and the angels’ song.

There is something about the story of Jesus’s 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 real 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 to simply see this passage as a heartwarming story of the birth of a child is to miss the immensity of what has taken place.  It is only when we remember who this child is, that the full meaning of what has taken place emerges.  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 ushering in a new way of living.  At Christmas, we certainly think of Christ’s birth, but we also celebrate what that birth made possible: Christ’s life, his ministry, his death and resurrection.

By becoming like us in all things but sin, we can be sure that God understands the difficulties and hardships that we experience at different times in our lives, because he is Immanuel – God with us.  But he became one of us for a purpose – so that we would become one with him.  When the priest pours the water and the wine into the chalice, he says silently.  “Through the mystery of the water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  God not only wants to be with us; he wants us to be with him for all eternity.

What happened at Bethlehem is meant to be completed in Christ’s coming into each of our lives; this coming is a work in progress.  And part of the reason is that we have to have spiritual senses, eyes that see and ears that can hear what God is really offering us.  That is why Christmas can be a grace-filled moment when we delve deeper into the meaning of our lives and what our Christian faith has to offer us.  And, so, Christmas is not simply a nostalgic look back, but a hope-filled look forward –  a grace-filled present moment.

When we use those words of Isaiah that we find in the first 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 people who still bear many burdens: be they spiritual, psychological, or material, and that poverty and violence mar so many people’s lives.

“The light has shone in the darkness”, showing the way forward, but today it requires light-carrying people who, by their commitment to Christ, will continue to communicate Christ’s love and light.  As the second 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 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, Father Shawn Hughes, the Associate Pastor, Father Paul Mawalla, Deacon Blaine Barclay, and all the priests and lay people 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.