As promised, I offer my thoughts this Christmas as well as those of Pope Benedict XVI which I think to be one of the shortest, clearest and most readily embraceable summary of the importance of this day I have either read or heard in a long time.
CHRISTMAS 2010 - Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle - Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg
Earlier this week, Pope Benedict XVI taped a message to the people of the United Kingdom, which was broadcast today on the BBC. I can’t remember a time in my soon to-be fifteen years as a bishop ever quoting either Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict at length in a homily I have delivered, but I am so taken by the Holy Father’s summary of the Christmas event, that I wish to begin with his own words and then will add a few more of my own.
Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation.
They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.
God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfills them.
The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, not only for the people of that time and place – he was to be the Savior of all people throughout the world and throughout history.
And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means; rather, Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross.
And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God.
Out of love for us, he took upon himself the human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life to a share in the life of God himself.
As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down; he gives us hope, he brings us to life.
Those are the words of the Holy Father to the people of Great Britain. I believe they so beautifully encapsulate the awesome mystery of the great feast we tonight recall that in the fullness of time, these words alone might rank with the Christmas sermons of Pope Leo the Great whose thoughts on the birth of Jesus have set the bar so high for preachers throughout the ages.
I am always amazed at the unpredictability of the Christmas event. Who were the first to learn of it? The Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Rabbis of Israel – those men of faith, importance and position in the Jewish religion. No way, “now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. . . .” The first recipients of the news of Christ’s birth were not even believers but non-religious Bedouins. They were not on anyone’s “watch list” nor were they watching and waiting for a coming Messiah. They were, quite simply minding their own business. Go find this child, the angel said. To the most unlikely of that time and place the news was broken and they left everything they owned to do as the angel directed. They took a risk to see Jesus.
Others would soon take a risk to see Jesus. None of the others recorded in the Gospels were of the Jewish faith or tradition: the Magi or Wise Men, for example. And what drove them to come and see: In Him we see the God made visible and so are caught up in the love of God we cannot see.” [Preface of Christmas I]. They came to see God in the person of a totally innocent newborn child and to place all their hope and all their trust in Him.
On this Christmas night, 2010, there is admittedly a lot of darkness: economic uncertainty, homes “underwater” or repossessed, high levels of unemployment, fear of a destructive strike by enemies of our nation and way of life, challenging access to good health care. But we pause tonight, because there is a ray of light, a ray of hope, a light penetrating the darkness seen first by those who were not believers and then seen and embraced by those who had been watching and waiting. In the Christ child God indeed offers us freedom, God indeed gives us hope, God indeed brings us to life. The innocent child matures to become the face of God to the weary, downtrodden, ill, blind, lame, uncertain and too certain. And our task is to be the face of Christ to those in our time and our place who need God, who need hope, who need the promise of life. Only then can we truly mean what we just sang: Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to His people on earth.
Merry Christmas, dear friends, and peace to you all.