25Dec Christmas Day

Theme

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in our world, though he was with God the Father before all ages. His birth opens up for us a glorious new identity, as children of God. On this major feast, the Scriptures promote a spirit of joy, of our giftedness in having as our Saviour one born, like all of us, from a woman of flesh and blood. We hear the hopeful words of a lovely prophecy which tells of seeing God “face to face”; then two great prologues, first from Hebrews, about Jesus as the ultimate revealer of God to us, and finally from the Fourth Gospel, the profound, grace-filled message that the Word was made flesh and lives among us.

Is 52:7-10 A prophecy describing the joy of the faithful watchmen, when they see the Lord, their Saviour, face to face. The whole world will see the saving work of God.

Heb 1:1-6 The son born of Mary is the eternal Son of the Father, the image of the invisible God, and the one through whom all things were made.

Jn 1:1-18 The opening words of Saint John’s Gospel which describes in sublime terms the eternal nature of the Word who in his incarnation became the source of light and life for all men.

Bidding Prayers

For all Christians celebrating this great feast all over the world, we may all share in our spirit the joy and peace of Jesus, who was born that we can share in God’s life, to the full

For people who live in darkness where God’s light is desperately needed to bring peace, understanding, sensitivity and compassion.

For those who even today are hungry, cold or homeless; for all who are separated from their loved ones; all for whom the festivities of Christmas emphasise their isolation and misery.

For our homes, families, neighbours and friends; for a spirit of mutual love, kindness and support on this great festival of God’s love

For all those who have died in faith, and for all who keenly feel the pain of loss at this special time.

Homilies

The Reindeer Gospel (Munachi Ezeogu)

Santa’s most popular reindeer by far is Rudolf, Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer. Here is his story as told in music by Johnny Marks: Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw him, you would even say it glows. All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolf play in any reindeer games. Then one foggy Christmas eve Santa came to say: “Rudolf with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” Then all the reindeer loved him as they shouted out with glee: “Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history.” The story of Rudolf, is the story of salvation. It is our story both as individuals and as the human family. In our own case it is not Santa who saves us but the Child Jesus.

To begin with, Rudolf was a misfit. Compared to the image of the ideal reindeer we can say that something was definitely wrong with him. What is more, he was not in any position to help himself. So are we all, misfits, as the Bible tells us. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). Like lost sheep we are not in a position to help ourselves. Rudolf could not help himself. All that his fellow reindeer did was to makes things worse for him. Only one person could help him, Santa, the messenger from heaven.

Today we celebrate the birth of the Messenger from heaven. As we read in today’s gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). He comes to liberate us from the human predicament, our sinfulness. For it is sin that mars and disfigures the beautiful image of God that we all are. Sin turns us into a despicable Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer. But the heavenly Messenger comes, not to take away the red nose but to declare to us the Good News that we are acceptable to God even with the red nose. Rudolf’s red nose was a defect. But Santa chose him precisely on account of that. The heavenly Messenger has the ability to turn the defects and red noses of our tainted humanity into assets for the service of God. Jesus is this heavenly messenger.

What makes the reindeer gospel so poignant is that Santa does not use his magic wand to heal Rudolf of his red nose defect. He let him go on with the red nose even as his chosen reindeer. Certainly Rudolf would have wanted nothing so much as to be a normal reindeer like all the rest. Similarly Jesus does not simply make us good men and women, rather he makes us into people who can use all their strengths and defects to the service and the glory of God. This is the proof to us that it is not by our own will power that we are able to become children of God. It is by God’s grace, by God’s unmerited and unconditional love of us. As God tells St Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

How does the grace of God achieve this transformation in us? God’s grace works two things in us: enlightenment and empowerment. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). God’s truth enlightens us and God grace empowers us. God’s truth enlightens us to see ourselves and our world in a new light. It is a word that brings reassurance, affirmation and hope. You can imagine how Rudolf felt when he heard the words of Santa, “Rudolf with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” That is why we call it the Good News. It is news that is liberating and empowering. It empowers us by changing our former disposition of insecurity, despair and hopelessness into that of blessed assurance, new hope and enthusiasm in the Lord’s service.

Like Rudolf before Santa, let us today listen to the Message that the Child Jesus brings us, let us commit ourselves into his service without looking back, even when we do not know where the journey will lead us, knowing one thing for sure: that the grace of God will supply the strength we need for the long journey of faith ahead. “For to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12).

The light shines out in darkness (John Walsh)

For the people of the Old Testament, light and darkness were more than natural phenomena. They tended to associate them often with virtue and wickedness in the community, and also with the day of the Lord’s coming. Indeed, at Qumran on the Dead Sea shoreline, during the life-time of Jesus, light and darkness were seen as two opposing kingdoms, and the sun’s victory over darkness was held to be a symbol of the triumph of faith over the blind pursuit of evil. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” So begins the Bible account of the first creation, and when it was ended, “God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good.”

But this original goodness and justice was to be shattered, because of our first parents’ abuse of the freedom of will granted them by God, so that once again, as the prophet Isaiah describes it (Is 60:2), “darkness came to cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” To dispel this darkness, a new creation was needed, and the ideal of goodness and perfection became a living reality, when the light of Christ came into the world. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; for those who lived in a land of deep shadow a light has shone” (Is 9:2). For God, who had created man in his own image and likeness, had now identified with the human race, and by assuming the body of a child in the image of man, had lowered himself and become one of us.)

It has become a tradition to associate snow with Christmas, and when it does come, shrouding everything with its white mantle, a stillness settles over the countryside, especially at night-time. That combination of darkness and stillness was the setting for the first Christmas. As the Book of Wisdom states, “When all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the middle of her course, your almighty Word leaped down from heaven, from your royal throne” (Wis 18:14f). It was as if God was saying a second time, “Let there be light” – let the gloom and darkness, which to such an extent exemplify the fallen and corrupt nature of the human race, be lifted, ushering in a new age of glory to God and peace on earth among all its people. And so an angel of the Lord appeared to some humble shepherds tending their flocks in the enveloping darkness, and the brightness of the Lord shone round them. “Do not be afraid,” the angel reassured them. “Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

These words are addressed to us also. We too must listen, listen in the stillness of our hearts, and, like the shepherds, we must hasten, and with eagerness draw near to Christ. “And the shepherds came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” They “found” implies effort on their part; they had to search. But their search was not in vain. “And seeing, they understood the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child.”

Likewise, we must search for Christ, hasten to him with eagerness, and in the quiet times of prayer, when we are alone with God, understanding of our need for Christ will come to us. St Augustine says that prior to conceiving Christ in her womb, Mary first conceived him in her heart, in a spiritual manner, by her faith. The Church in faith is referred to as the Spouse of Christ, in other words, its members are called to be sisters and brothers of Christ. It is more difficult, Augustine goes on, to understand that the Church is the Mother of Christ. But this is also true, and it was Christ himself who first gave it that title, when he declared, “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt 12:50). The Church is the Mother of Christ in that, by obedience to the will of the Father, she brings Christ into being in the world. But we, its members, are the Church, and so we can give birth to Christ, become mothers of Christ, in a purely spiritual way, by doing God’s holy will.

And Augustine is quite adamant, “this is something that is not out of your reach; it is not beyond you, it is not incompatible with you. You have become children; be mothers as well” (Sermon 72A). In the final sentences of the Bible, Christ makes this promise, “I shall indeed be with you soon.” May our response be “Amen, come Lord Jesus” (Apoc 22:20).

Hear ye! Hear ye! (Jack McArdle)

We are all familiar with the story of today’s gospel (using Luke 2). It is a balanced gospel, in that it speaks about the birth of Jesus and, in the shepherds, we see a clear response to the good news of his birth.

We are all familiar with the evidence that the news on television, radio, and in the papers in often bad news. It may not strike us that if good news became so scarce and so unusual that it merited front page coverage whenever it happened, we’d be in serious trouble indeed. We also hear the phrase that “No news is good news.” Something that betokens our fears of the possibilities in our lives. Bad news for one person is often good news for someone else, as we listen to the results of football matches, or the Lotto results. On the other hand, bad news can be bad news for everyone, as we read about some natural catastrophe, or some carnage on the roads. It would be interesting to reflect on my answer to the question, “What good news would I like to hear today?” I must remember, of course, that my answer to that question can be different with each new day. And then there is good news that is good for everyone for now, for always, for eternity.

This is a day for rejoicing, for singing songs of praise with the angels in heaven. The long-awaited Messiah has arrived, the long night of darkness is over, and the Saviour has come to bring us home Out of the slavery of Egypt. The whole thing was so simple, without fanfare, without fuss. No wonder we sing “Silent Night.” It is also a holy night. Emmanuel has come and his name is Jesus. “Emmanuel” means “God is with us,” and the name “Jesus” means “Saviour.” It is a “Hear ye. Hear ye.” night, when the heralds should be sent to every corner of the globe to proclaim the birth of freedom, of hope, and of victory.

As it happened, the heralds on the night were angels, and the hearers were shepherds. There is a strange irony in this, because, in those days, no one believed the word of a shepherd. Many of us remember the same being applied to the stories of sailors about all the places they visited, and all the wonders they saw. The shepherds spent their nights out under the stars and, with the occasional falling or shooting star, and being in a state of falling in and out of sleep, it is understandable that strange things seemed to happen, and to go bump in the night.

If today’s gospel went on for one more paragraph, it would present us with a very important message. The angels proclaimed the message, the shepherds heard it. What were they to do next? The gospel goes on to tell that they decided to go to Bethlehem and see for themselves all the things which the Lord told them. That is the bridge we all have to cross; from knowledge to experiential knowledge, to go and see for ourselves. The gospel is in between two phrases, “Come and See” and “Go and Tell.”

Response: In a beautiful way, children can often be seen to have it right. They get terrific excitement about what is a wonderful occasion, jingle bells and all, and yet, to watch the face of a child as she kneels at the crib is to get a glimpse of just how uncomplicated the whole story is. If you were to continue watching the child as she gets up from the crib, you may well see her dash out the door to display her new clothes, or rush home to enjoy the goodies. It is all part of the gift. The greatest gift of all, of course, is the gift from the Father of his Son Jesus. All other gifts get their meaning from that. “If God has so loved us, then we, surely, should love one another.”

It is not uncommon today to hear a young person complain of being bored. It is interesting to note that this word “bore,” as against drilling holes in something, comes from the French bourrer, which means to stuff until full, to satiate. It implies being full, with no room for more. No room in the Inn? Another expression we hear is when someone is described as being full of herself, once again implying someone who has no space for others in her life. There is a hole in the human heart and, despite all the pursuit of wealth, power, or pleasure; nothing can fill it but God. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts can never be at peace until they rest in you,” was the prayer of St Augustine.

I can think of today in two ways. One way is to think of it as something that happened thousands of years ago. Another way is to think of it, and see it, as something that is happening today, something of which we all are part. I believe that if I don’t bring it into today, and become part of it, I will miss the whole thing. Another Christmas will have come and gone, and the manger of my heart still lies empty, and I’m out in the open, minding and counting sheep, and not going anywhere. Today is a wonderful moment of grace and, like any moment in my life, it can be grasped and embraced, or ignored and let slip by.

Probably none of us lives an enclosed life, or lives the life of a hermit. Therefore, most of us have to find time for things amidst the bustle of life, which is already making great demands on our time. On a day like today, however, I must have time, prime time, to get involved in the real reason for the season. The consolation about this is that it needs only a few moments, but they must be moments when I go down into my heart, throw myself on my knees before the manger there, and welcome Jesus to make his home in me. It must be my own personal welcome, my own personal “yes.” For all the hearts and homes that have been closed to him since that first Christmas night, I can throw open the door of my heart and of my home, and say “Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus,” which are the last words of the whole Bible, something that is very significant.

One of the blocks I can have, when it comes to dealing with the Lord, is that I may have settled for being unworthy, not good enough, someone who would not be very “religious,” if I may use that word. This has absolutely nothing to do with it. Do you think that the world, and everybody in it, was good enough, was open and ready, and was welcoming on that first Christmas night? The very reasons that might come up in my mind to prevent me being open to the gift of today are the very reasons why I qualify for that same gift. Jesus came to call sinners. Do you think you qualify?

It is important to remember that God doesn’t give me anything; rather he offers me everything. It’s entirely up to me whether I decide to accept the gift or not. Scripture quotes God as saying “I offer you life or death. Choose life.” Jesus said that he came that we should have life, and have it more abundantly. “Man/woman shall live forevermore, because of Christmas Day.” Part of our experience of this occasion is the giving and accepting of gifts. The Father offers each one of us the gift of his only Son, Jesus. I often receive gifts for Christmas for which I have absolutely no use, and which I do not require. In this case, however, I am offered a gift that is essential for life now, and for eternal life. Even God can do no better than make the offer, and await your reply.

He was homeless (Alex McAllister)

As GK Chesterton’s Christmas poem so memorable puts it:

Only where He was homeless are you and I at home.

Born into a world full of troubles; born into a family getting ready to do a moonlight flit; so came Christ into our world. The harsh realities of his birth were no different to those experienced by the vast majority of human beings over the centuries. It was deliberately so. Not simply so that he could experience human life in all it joys and sorrows and so bring it to redemption; that was hardly necessary for God. No, he was born into our world in poverty and in persecution so that we could more easily identify with him. As Chesterton said, ‘Only where He was homeless are you and I at home.’

And we are homeless; we are without a roof over our heads. Not a material roof, certainly none of us here this evening has that problem. But in some way we are homeless, without a home, without a dwelling place. This is what is recognised here in this parish. This community of believers has come together because of a deep realisation on the part of its members that there is no lasting home for us here on earth; that our true dwelling place lies in heaven.

One would think that here in the Catholic Church one would find certainty, stability and changelessness. And in one sense it is so. In any Church ancient traditions are carefully preserved; great efforts are made to provide stability; change is only reluctantly accepted. But in another sense it is not so at all. Here in the Church there is also a deep awareness of the transitory nature of human life. Here there is a concrete realisation of human frailty. Here is a clear understanding that each member is deeply dependent on the others.

The world is changing. In the new Millennium we observe a great increase in the rapidity of change, a great desire for everything to be modern and new. But the danger is that it the change is too fast and modernity too superficial. The impression becomes more important than the substance. And the spin-doctors have become the main determinants of our political and social agenda.

We saw in the last decade of the outgoing 20th century the triumph of capitalism over communism, after a struggle lasting over seventy-five years. But the danger now is that capitalism, left untrammelled, will turn everything into a commodity and the poor will be trampled underfoot.

We have also seen the increased struggle by ethnic groups to assert their national identity and the fragmentation of nation states. All these things, all these threats and uncertainties unite us with the Christ Child. The circumstances of his birth draw us close to him. The vulnerability of the child whose life would be under threat within a few days. Our knowledge of the eventual outcome of his life -at the same time both tragic and victorious. The realisation that all the power of God is focused on this tiny infant, and that also within us is a spark of that same Godliness. These things inexorably draw us towards him.

The years hurtle by and the faith waxes and wanes. In one century it is strong, in another weak. In one country there is powerful witness to Christ, in another we see the debilitating effects of indifference. But whether Christianity is strong or weak this feast of Christmas attracts the whole world, Christian and non-Christian alike. The infant, the lowly manger, his vulnerability, his destiny -it is compelling.

We certainly approach Christ at Christmas in a way that is unique from the rest of the year. The blood and gore of Good Friday and the strange mystery of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday are more difficult for us to deal with. But at Christmas we easily identify with the infant Jesus in his cradle and in his vulnerability, and we feel at one with him. Moreover we feel that he is at one with us.

This parish community gathered here tonight in the dark, in the middle of winter to commemorate in solemn liturgy the mystery of the incarnation is a living witness to the power of this tiny child to conquer our hearts and lives.

This tiny child makes us aware of our own vulnerability. This tiny child makes us aware that all is transitory. In the midst of a great feeding-frenzy of materialism that is the modern-day Christmas this tiny child helps us to realise that material things don’t matter and that it is the real values of the Gospel that count -faith, love, hope, trust, reconciliation and all the rest.

He who was born in a stable, and who was so soon to become a refugee helps us to realise the profound importance of a properly ordered family life. He helps us to get our priorities and values straight. He helps us to value all life and to realise that all that lives and breathes has life only from God.

Chesterton was right: ‘Only where he was homeless are you and I at home.’ And he was right because it is only where Christ is that we truly can be at home.

God’s Love for Us (Tommy Lane)

Here’s a meditation I thhought of at Christmas.

Let us adore baby Jesus in the manger. A baby easily wins the heart and love of anyone with human feelings, but how much more does this baby win our heart and love. Let us kneel before baby Jesus and thank him for coming to save us. Thank baby Jesus now in your own words.

Imagine, Jesus, the Son of God and our Saviour born in a stable and placed in a manger instead of in a cot. When God comes he usually comes in humility, silently and peacefully, without causing a great disturbance. Gods humble coming in Jesus would not surprise us if we knew God better. But of course we will never know God sufficiently to understand. So no matter how much we try to understand God becoming human in Jesus we will not be able to comprehend, it will remain a mystery. The best reaction is that of the shepherds, simply to praise God. Let us praise God now in our own words.

As we look on baby Jesus we think of the mystery of Gods love for us. Why did God who is almighty and all-powerful become small and powerless as a baby? Quite simply, out of love for us. God became human so that we might become more like God. Jesus if you had not come as a human like us, we might have had difficulty in believing that God really loved us. But now we know for sure. John the Evangelist says, This is the revelation of Gods love for us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him. Let us thank God for revealing his love for us in Jesus, that he who is so big and powerful became so small and weak for us, that he became one of us, to help us be more like him, to have life through him.

As we see baby Jesus in the manger we reflect on Gods way being a way of gentleness and tenderness. Gods way is not one of violence but gentleness. There is a lack of goodness and love in the world but God is tender and loving. As we look on baby Jesus in the manger we see that he is the answer to todays problems. Instead of violence, in baby Jesus in the manger we see gentleness. Instead of hatred, in baby Jesus in the manger we see tenderness. Instead of selfishness, in baby Jesus in the manger we see love for us. Let us ask baby Jesus to help us to be gentle, tender and loving with those around us as he was in the manger.

Jesus in the manger, you give us hope. In the darkness of our world, your light has shone. Your coming in gentleness encourages us to hold out the hand of reconciliation, to help one another, to work for peace. We remember the message of the angels; Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace. Baby Jesus, help us to be people of peace and to spread peace everywhere we go. Let us pray now for peace.

Readings

First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.

Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Gospel: John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.