Homily for Christmas Midnight Mass
Homily for Christmas Midnight Mass
Bishop Kevin Doran
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 24th December 2014
“A child has been born for us, a son given to us, authority rests upon his shoulders. And he is named wonder counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace”. These words of the prophet Isaiah are words written to proclaim the birth of a great King. When I read them in these last few days I was reminded of some of the rather flowery media reports of the birth eighteen months ago of Prince George of Cambridge. He is, by any stretch of the imagination, a privileged child, but he is still only a child who has to be fed and changed like other children. He has a childhood to live and a lot of growing up to do. On the day of his birth George was already being spoken of as the “future king of England”. Meanwhile, his grandfather, aged 66, is still waiting for his own turn on the throne. Even for those who are born to greatness, the window of history only opens for a very short time. We look in vain for the meaning of our existence unless we look beyond the short time we spend on earth. We need to look at life from the perspective of eternity.
The prophecy of Isaiah finds its fulfilment, however, not in the birth of Prince George or some other great King, but in the birth of Jesus who, according to St. Luke, was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn. There were, of course, no maternity hospitals in the first century. A woman might be lucky enough to have the assistance of a neighbour or a family member. But the odds must surely have been stacked against the very survival of a child born in a stable.
If, as we believe, this child was the Son of God, sent into the world to reveal the love of God, we might be inclined to ask ourselves, what was God thinking about? Was it not a bit careless of him? Could he not have arranged for a more dignified or at least a safer way for His Son to be born? Of course this turned out to be part of a pattern. In a few days’ time the Gospel will remind us that this same Jesus became a refugee in the first months of his life. While still a relatively young man, he fell foul of the authorities and died the death of a criminal.
When it comes to God, I don’t believe in accidents. It seems to me that, if the Son of God was born in a stable, there must have been a reason for it. God wanted to say something to us about us about the nature of his love. By making His own Son vulnerable, He was entering into solidarity with all who live on the margins. He was saying that his love is not limited to those who can earn it or inherit it. It does not depend on legal or social status, on what our parents have achieved or on their material circumstances. You might be born on a mud floor or die between silk sheets; you might live to collect the pension, or you might die while you are still on the children’s allowance. That one thing that does not change, however, even when you can’t imagine it for yourself, is that you are precious in the eyes of God and He loves you.
I wonder if, like me, you have spent some time thinking about that other baby who has been in the headlines in recent days; about his or her parents and grandparents. It is a very complex situation and, of course, nothing can take away the pain of parents who have lost their daughter. Some of you probably understand that only too well because you have been through a similar experience. As often happens in situations such as this, there is a lot of what might be called “loose talk”. I regret that some commentators have already seen in this case an opportunity to push their own agenda. On one of the radio news bulletins yesterday, the reporter used the word “baby” a few times, but each time he corrected himself and said “foetus”. It is, of course, technically correct, but I never heard Buckingham Palace refer to Princess Kate Midleton’s “foetus”. If the event of Christmas has anything to teach us, it is that every child – born or not – is a child of God, whose dignity is rooted in being loved into life by God and whose hope is rooted in the promise of eternal life. In all of these difficult questions, THAT must be our starting point as Christians; a deep respect in the face of the mystery of life.
There is no conflict between the survival of this child and the well-being of the mother, who sadly died three weeks ago. What we don’t know of course is whether, under these particular circumstances, the child can survive for another ten weeks and develop well enough to have a reasonable chance at life. That calls for an honest and expert medical judgement. It cannot really be resolved by lawyers or judges, however wise they may be. I would suggest that each one of us, over these next few days, might bring to prayer all those who are involved in this situation, the parents, the child, the grandparents, the doctors and nurses, the lawyers and the judges – and yes, the politicians too, that each one may be touched by the mystery of God’s love for him or her.
Our first reading this evening, with its focus on light and darkness captures something of the paradox of our human existence. It is often when we are still walking in the darkness that we are most conscious of the light. Life is beautiful, and there is nothing more beautiful than a life well-lived, but – like many beautiful things – life can also be fragile. We experience ourselves as vulnerable, economically and spiritually; in our health and in our relationships.
We traditionally put a light in the crib. I don’t know the origins of that tradition. At a human level, it makes sense that where people are living, even for a few short days, there should be a light. But when you think that Jesus is the light, then it seems to me that the little light in our crib is meant to shine outwards rather than inwards.
In much the same way, we who are the disciples of Jesus are not called just to gather here once a week and to be comfortable in the light of Christ, we are called to reflect that light outwards so that it reaches into all the dark corners of the world. It is our mission to shine the light of compassion, truth and justice into the market-place, into the board-room, into our schools, our hospitals and into all the places that we go. That is how we give Glory to God in the Highest.
We live our lives in between the birth of Jesus and His coming again at the end of time. The challenge for us, as St Paul says is “to be self- restrained and to live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing that will come”. If, to use the words of Isaiah, “our gladness is greater”, it is not because everything is sorted. It is because the Lord is near. Like the light shining in the darkness, that is what gives us the courage to live from day to day in justice and integrity.
I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas. I will be offering this mass for you and for your family members, especially those who are sick or away from home at this time.