Given at Christmas Midnight Mass in Westminster Cathedral 2019
I am delighted to welcome you all to this solemn celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. We proclaim him to be the Eternal Word of God coming into our world to bring us light, grace and the fullness of life. He is our Saviour, our Lord, our God.
I welcome you warmly, wherever you may have come from. Perhaps you are regulars at this Cathedral. Perhaps you just happen to be visiting London. Perhaps you have come from a great distance. Whoever you are, whatever your background, wherever you have come from, you are most welcome.
Each one of us, in our own circumstances, has been drawn here tonight. Something has summoned us, prompted us to make the effort. And it is wonderful to be here, to sense this great gathering of people, together in this majestic Cathedral, enthralled by its grandeur and the beauty of this Liturgy. It is so good to know that we belong, we are not alone in our faith. It is good to know that, gathered from all over the world, we have these bonds of faith holding us together.
Yet for all the greatness of this vision, it is something much simpler that draws us in. It is the birth of a child, in the poorest of circumstances, in a faraway time and place. This is the simple centre of our celebration: simple yet immensely powerful, for in it we recognise a unique event, a birth which breaks open for us a new understanding of who we are and how we are to live.
In the birth of Jesus, a new way is opened for us personally and as a great family of nations.
Someone wrote to me the other day and described London as being like the ‘Galilee of the Nations’, a place to which so many people stream, a great and crowded city. At this moment, many are still enjoying a party; some perhaps a time of quiet. Many are asleep, some on the roadsides, some in great luxury. But by our presence here, we have been called to carry everyone in our hearts, those who do not yet know the wonder of God, and those who are too busy to bother. You and I represent them all. It is our task to bring them to the crib, to Jesus in the stable, and then to bring him to them, in whatever way we can.
In a formal phrase, you and I, gathered as the Body of Christ, the Church, are called to be the Sacrament of the World. We are to be a place, a time, an occasion, in which the loveliness of God touches our world and brings it new hope. This is the deepest purpose of the child whose birth we celebrate this night.
St Paul puts it so clearly when he tells us that our Saviour Christ Jesus ‘sacrificed himself for us in order to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good’ (Titus 2.14).
That is who we are to be, today, in our world, in this society: a people with no ambition except to do good.
Let me put it this way: we are a people who are to look one another in the eye and see there all that is good. We are always to look for the good in the other. Then we are to act according to what we have seen.
The source of that good in every person we meet is, of course, the life of God, a divine goodness, which shows itself fully in Christ Jesus. This same goodness is written into every human being. Of course that goodness gets hidden, subverted, corrupted. But it never disappears. It is always to be found.
In this society, after so much bitter political discourse and division, this is what we need: to look each other in the eye and see the good that is there. Only then will our society become a place in which no one is afraid and all sense a welcome. This is the fresh start we need and we, who are the touchstone of God’s presence, the Sacrament of the World, are called to show the way.
When we get up from the crib, from seeing the goodness of God in Jesus and from offering him our hearts, we have this task: to show to others the way of finding the goodness of God in every person, in every place. And we show the way by doing it ourselves.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for being the People of God, for taking the presence of this precious child wherever you go. Thank you for being this visible sign, this Sacrament of goodness in our world.
And may God grant you the joy of Christmas, the joy of recognising his presence and his goodness in our world this night!
A happy Christmas to you all!