Given at Midnight Mass of Christmas, 25th December 2017, at Westminster Cathedral.
On this night of festivities and holiday let the recent words of Pope Francis ring out clearly:
‘Christmas is the feast of faith in the Son of God who became man in order to restore us to our filial dignity, lost through sin and disobedience.
‘Christmas is the feast of faith in hearts that become a manger to receive him and in souls that allow God to make a shoot of hope, charity and faith sprout from the stump of their poverty.’
Here are the deep roots of the joy of this night and of the warm greetings that I offer to everyone: a very happy Christmas to you all!
This is a feast of faith in an age in which many find faith puzzling, remote and vaguely disturbing. Yet here, in the baby of Bethlehem, the invitation of faith is seen in its simplest and most lovely moment. Amidst the razzmatazz of parties, the crib whispers its appeal: ‘Come and see; come and see this child.’ This child, in all his vulnerability and poverty, is God bending down to be in our midst, to be one of us, for evermore.
In this age, in which we are privileged to live, there is a mood, an insistence, that the most important thing for each of us is to live by the strength of our own convictions. When we assert ourselves, in our views, in our experiences, in our feelings, then we are fully alive. Our progress, it seems, must come at a cost to others, be they neighbours, other groups, or even other nations. Conflict is in the air, not dialogue; hostility, not willingness to accommodate and talk.
Yet if we are willing to bend down a little and peep into the crib, then a different pathway opens up. It is, first of all, a pathway of the heart, for that’s what babies do. They change our perspective, bringing us to see things differently.
As we look, we wonder: who is this child? What does he bring? What will become of him?
Some things about this child are not visible to the human eye, only to the eyes of faith.
From his Mother, Jesus receives his human nature; to this he brings his divine nature, for he is God, one with the Father, conceived of the Holy Spirit. He is, then, of two natures, fully human and fully divine, in one person. This is so important. If Jesus is only human, then, yes, he is truly a remarkable man, one who can inspire us, whose story is rightly told again and again. But if he were only a human being he could not be our Saviour for he, like all of us, would be subject to the gradual corruption of sin and the ultimate destruction of death. Only God, the creator of all things, can overcome those great enemies. Yet, if Jesus, in his victory over sin and death, is only a divine being, then he is beyond our reach. In our humanity we cannot be sharers in those victories. All we can do is admire the distant glory of his Godhead. We cannot find in him hope for ourselves.
On this holy night, then, as we gaze into the crib, we see in our midst the one, unique person who holds together our humanity and God’s divine power. We see the only one who can bring us out of ourselves into a greater reality: the reality of those freed from fear, freed from the choking effect of sin and from the dread of death, reborn into his life. This is, then, the greatest of gifts, coming into the history of our world in an event of universal appeal, as a new born baby, and offering to all, without exception, a hope beyond all hope, and a love beyond every limitation.
Hope and love are the language of the heart. Tonight we remember that so often the essential is invisible to the eye. What is truly essential can only be seen by the heart, or, as Dostoyevsky said: ‘Only the heart knows where to find what is precious.’ This gift of Jesus, the gift of Christmas faith, is this sort of truth: not the cold truth of logic, nor simply of empirical evidence, as our culture likes to demand. But this is a truth that emerges when our hearts are stirred, not so much in the privacy of an individual experience, but carrying us out of ourselves into the harmony of a whole community, a host of witnesses, who, in their living and dying, testify to the hope and love that they have found and lived in Christ Jesus the Lord. We all know such witnesses. They are the saints of every age, those proclaimed by the Church, those less publicly known; those of our own families and those whose stories we personally treasure.
May I suggest, then, that as we approach the crib, either literally or in spirit, on this holy night and in the days to come, we go hand in hand with those we love and those who give us hope. Join hands with them, even if you do it only in your heart because they are far away, or because they are now separated from you by death. Come to this child together, come to the Incarnate Word of God, who alone, in his divine nature, will conquer death, and who, as one of us, so longs to share this gift with you. He uniquely will speak to your heart, and in him you will find the fulfilment of all your love and a reawakening of hope. In him you will find the sure path to take in this life.
As Pope Francis said, Christmas is the feast of faith, a faith in God that opens us to all that lies beyond the narrow confines of our self-assertion. Faith in God is not, as some would portray, a narrowing of the human mind or spirit. It is precisely the opposite. For faith in God, present in Jesus, stretches us, enlightens us, and often springs surprises upon us. Such faith, like love, sees that which is invisible and lives by it.
This faith also helps us to construct the pathway of dialogue, in which we genuinely listen to each other, in which sincere disagreement is not made out to be insult or harassment, in which reasoned principles are not construed as prejudice and in which we are prepared to attribute to each other the best and not the worst of motives.
May this Christmas renew in us the green shoots of hope and generous love, even in the poverty of our lives. May we be the mangers of his birth in our world today, for we are to bring to those we know and meet, this simple and transforming invitation to faith, to faith in Jesus, the architect of true life, the master builder, the one alone in whom all hope is found.
Today, above all else, is the celebration of his birth. Let us truly rejoice and be glad, for this is the day so wonderfully given to us by the Lord. Amen.