HOMILY at the SOLEMN MIDNIGHT MASS of the NATIVITY of the LORD (C) 2018
2018 has been a very turbulent year once again, and as we begin to look towards 2019 there is no promise that politically at least it will be any different. So during the past months, along with the rest of the world, I have watched so many negotiations taking place – Brexit, the recent Climate Change Conference in Poland, and the many attempts, some of them in this city, to bring peace to warring factions in a multitude of troubled parts of the world.
These negotiations are all so very difficult. Sometimes there is a language barrier to overcome. Sometimes it is a matter of culture. Most often the barrier to a final agreement is a very simple one – there are too many vested interests on each side, things that just won’t be surrendered in order to at least begin a process. Less still to look at things in a radically new way.
When we look at the difficulties that we human beings create between ourselves, we know beyond shadow of a doubt how much we stand in need of a Saviour. Someone to rescue us from the death that selfish individualism brings. Someone to shine as a light in a dark world, as well as someone to redeem those dark forces of hatred and war, of disease and death, of pride and prejudice which we know all too painfully well as the destructive forces that they are in human living. Someone to give us new possibilities.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of that Someone. We have come together on a dark night to a place where fragile candlelight is a symbol of that Someone, and where, in a moment or two’s time, we shall be gifted his life in the Bread and Wine of holy communion at this Midnight Mass. The Light has come.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of Jesus – he who is the Son of God and Son of Blessed Mary. He shows us the humility and the generosity of God. But the mystery for us is that Jesus discloses at the same time what it is to be fully and authentically human, too. God is humble and generous – and that message is writ large in the Bethlehem stable. Because God’s nature is to be humble and generous, then that is the way our human nature is to be at its fullest and best too.
So tonight we see God emptying himself out in love for the people and the universe he creates, pouring himself out into the fragile, helpless life of a baby born in a stable. Artists, musicians, and poets have long exploited this wonderful paradox and our carols tonight reflect on it. God in his inmost heart is a relational being – there are no vested interests, no non-negotiable aspects to the being of God. And we are most fully and properly human when we, like God, pour ourselves out in love. Love that comes from this same God. For without such pouring out of self, there just can be no relationship. As we contemplate this bright light of the Christ Child in the manger tonight set in the midst of a dark world, we see the truth of God’s humility. God’s humility which is the liberating truth for our humanity, too. Salvation comes to us tonight through the self-emptying of God and that salvation is real for us when we recognise that we humans are not meant to be proudly self-sufficient independent creatures, protected from others by an invisible wall. That way is a prison from which the Saviour of the world releases us. He releases us to discover the joy of our mutual dependence upon one another and ultimately upon God.
This is God’s new way – the way of reconciliation which stops at nothing, which holds nothing back in reserve, which lays down God’s own life that our human nature may find the healing we so badly need.
At Christmas, we come together as families and friends, with the joys and the sorrows that brings. With the horrors of Brussel Sprouts and the fear of that Christmas jumper. But we do all this, I believe, because instinctively we know that the message of Christmas reminds us of the truth about our human nature – that we are made for relationship, that we find ourselves most fully as we lose ourselves. This is such an important message for an increasingly individualistic and self-centred age. For ultimately, to live in the way of individualism is to live under the sentence of death. To live in Christ’s way is to know his liberating victory over all such dark forces and over anything and everything that diminishes us as people.
So I wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas in which you may know God’s humility and God’s utter generosity to the full.