In this beautiful homily for Midnight Mass for Christmas, Year B, Father Hanly looks with great wonder at why God would choose to come as a helpless, needy little child.
Readings for Midnight Mass for Christmas
First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 96:1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14
Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light”
Whenever I read that, every Christmas, I think of my very first impression as a child. Do you remember your very first memory? I remember mine because I’ve had a little help from my father. But what I remember is this. It’s 1934. I was only about two and a half years old, moving slightly towards three. And I remember my father holding me in his arms. And the reason I remember my father was because he always smelled of smoke. He used to smoke a lot. And he held me in his arms to show me the Christmas tree. I’m not too sure about the next because later on they told me that in those days they actually had candles on the tree. The light came from the candles. It was the last time they had candles on the tree.
My first memory carried me all through my life, I think, because whenever Christmas comes, I feel like I’m held in the arms of God and He is showing me the light of his Son. And it gives me great pleasure to think of my father and to think of Christmas, and to think, most of all, of the light. For the light is, of course, Jesus the Lord.
And the light comes and there are so many fascinating understandings of the light. The light comes and it shines only in darkness. And therefore we must be surrounded by darkness to appreciate the great wonders of the light itself coming to us.
It is God who holds us in His arms. It is God who brings light not only to the world but Jesus His son brings light to our hearts.
And especially on Christmas. Our steps are lighter. We feel drawn to each other in a closer and more intimate way than most of the year. And rightfully so, because it is deep into the winter darkness and things sometimes around this time get a little dark in our own hearts, and there are issues in the family, problems in the world and, especially this time, this time as we celebrate the light of the world.
And it is this time that Christmas perhaps might mean more to us than the many Christmases that have come before in better times and in affluent times. For this Christmas we are asked to face an uncertain future. And we’re asked to begin to understand that our life and our security and what makes us firm comes from God himself rather than the circumstances of our daily living.
A child is born to us. What a wonderful, wonderful prophecy by Isaiah. A child is born to us. How simple. How full of mystery. A child.
When we think of God, we think of great light, we think of creation, we think of an extraordinary, untouchable reality (inaudible) that dwells in great light, we think of something far outside the boundaries of our own mind, unable to grasp even the beginning of what it is to be God and what God is like.
And then suddenly God appears, weak, a helpless infant, a child, a baby, full of need, totally relying on a mother who loves him, and on a stepfather who loves him and the mother as well.
And this picture is given to us and we wonder why does God do this? Why would he come in such a way in his weakness? Why would his cries come out to us, asking us to reach down and lift him up and love him as one loves a child, a weak, needy, little child?
The only answer is that love does these things.
Because what can you do with a helpless little child except love the child, and to take the child into your own arms and into your own heart and realize that God himself so envied us that He became one of us and took on our own life, our own flesh and blood, that He might let us know, in such a striking way, that the solution to all our problems lies in our weakness not our strength, lies in our humility and not our arrogance, lies in the ability to love and not to be frightened, and not to walk around as if the darkness was our friend, because He has come to show us that the beginning and the end of all existence is Jesus, the God-man who walks with us as very, very surely today in our hearts as he did as he was taken up in the arms of his mother on that first Christmas.
This is the unbelievable mystery that God is with us. Emmanuel, as the saying goes, “God is with us”. He has come to stay. He has come to share our humanity. He has wept and we have seen him weep. And he cries today in the outcries and outrages, the pain and the sorrow of a world that refuses to leave the darkness and move with great love into a new light and into a new life.
And we feel terribly grateful. And we sing songs. And we rejoice.
And at the same time we realize that all love is not only something to rejoice about because we have received it into our arms, but it is also a challenge.
For love also has a price. And if God becomes one with us, Jesus says, “This is the way. This is the way of peace. This is the way of harmony. This is the way of all reality,” is that we must love one another in the same way, in the weakness, in the need, in the reaching out, and in the gentle, sweet feeling of his presence. To be one with each other and to create a world of harmony, to create a world that lies deep in the yearning of every human being. And not to be afraid of the pain that might come with it. For God is a God of light and not of darkness, a God of ultimate triumph and not failure.
Christmas, then, is a gift. It is the first gift. It is God’s gift. And when we give gifts to each other, this mirrors the gift of God Himself on the first Christmas.
It is a gift but it is also a challenge. And the challenge, of course, is to become like a little child, helpless, in need. A recognition that we need each other, that we must reach out to each other, that we must overcome the barriers that separate us from each other, that we must work to understand that it is in humility that we find truth. And in truth we find courage. And in the presence of God within our hearts we face perhaps the darkness ahead of us but with the great light of His strength, His power, and most of all His love.
And so what then, in order to speak of the challenge that lays before all of us as Christians, I would like to read a passage, author unknown (Howard Thurman), but it speaks of what happens after Christmas. And this is the way it goes:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”
God bless you all, and may you and your families have a lovely, a wonderful, a peaceful, a joyful Christmas.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
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This homily was delivered at Midnight Mass on 25th December 2008.
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