Christmas morning Mass-Archbishop B. O’Brien

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien

Christmas Day 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 in the account of Jesus’s birth that  is very human and tugs at the heart.  It is 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.  But to simply see this passage as a heart warming 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 Gospel for the Mass on Christmas Day does not recount the scene in Bethlehem.  Rather, it tries to help us to interpret it and see the deeper meaning of that story.  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 is expressed so well in our gospel passage this morning where it  says, “The Word was the light that enlightens all men, and he was coming into the world.”

When we want to express this momentous happening, we naturally reach into the language of the Bible, the Old Testament.  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 life, with all its sorrows and joys.  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 to each of us, into our lives, is still a work in progress.  And part of the reason is that, for this to happen, we have to have the spiritual senses, the eyes and ears, that can see and hear what God is really offering us.

As we heard in the gospel passage:  “The Word was the light that enlightens all men; and he was coming into the world that had its being through him, and the world did not know him…. But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.”  That is why Christmas can really be a grace-filled moment, when we delve into the meaning of our lives and what our Christian faith has to offer us.

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 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 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, 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 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.