Given at the Christmas Celebration in Westminster Cathedral on 18th and 19th December 2019
Every word we hear this evening, every bar of music sung, has as its focus just one person.
In the course of this Celebration, that person has been described by twenty-six different titles. At least that is my count. You can do your own, looking through our programme of words and music.
The person is, of course, Jesus the Christ. In the very first piece of music, he was given three titles: Emmanuel, Law-giver, King. And so it continues: Alpha and Omega, Lamb of God, Eternal Wisdom, Incarnate Deity, Everlasting Lord - to name but a few.
We struggle to capture in words the wonder of the event we are celebrating: the birth of Jesus Christ, truly God in our midst, the Author of both light and life.
And so we are faced with a question, posed to all those who know of him, from St Peter to each of us here tonight: Who do you say that I am?
We fashion an answer to that question in so many different ways, some answers expressed not in words but in actions, arising from the depth of our traditions.
One response is to be seen just outside, on Victoria Street and, indeed, on so many streets, and in shops and homes. To mark the Christmas Season and Feast we put up thousands and thousands of lights. They are everywhere. They cheer us up. In my mind these lights are symbols of all those thousands of acts of kindness that are to be seen in every corner of our society, bringing the light of kindness into so many lives.
These Christmas illuminations draw on, and reflect, this single light of the goodness of God, present and shining brightly in the lowly stable of Bethlehem. This same goodness, written into every human being and ever active in the world, is now seen, in its fullness, in this tiny child. In him, that goodness will lead to utter self-sacrifice, just as it inspires sacrifice, day by day, in so many. He, then, is truly the Light of all these lights, the light in our darkness.
Another response we make is also deeply embedded in our culture. At Christmas, we give each other presents. How difficult it is to get these gifts just right! But we try, often clumsily but sincerely.
This too flows from the event we celebrate tonight. Jesus the Christ is ‘the wondrous gift’. He is ‘the blessings of heaven’. In echo of this great gift, we give gifts to each other, hoping that somehow the gift we have chosen may be just right, meeting a sensed need or evoking a deep delight in the person receiving it. We are so pleased when the presents we give are received with graciousness and sometimes outright delight!
If we open our hearts to this heavenly gift this can be true for us. Listen again to the words of Cardinal Hume, which we have just heard: ‘I have begun to realise more intensely that the birth of Jesus Christ in that stable in Bethlehem is where my questions begin to be answered... He entered our world in order to enter our lives. He came to share what we are, to give meaning to what we do, to heal wounds, to give life.’
What greater gift could there be: the healing of brokenness and division; the rekindling of the spark of gratitude and joy in our lives and the opening of the book of future promises? He is indeed the Redeemer, Prince of Peace; as we have just sung: ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight’.
Two days ago, I received this text message: ‘Lydia had a baby girl today! Sophie Grace Florence. Lydia is good, the baby is beautiful. Perfect new life.’ Oh yes, the birth of a new baby sets before us the great mystery of life. In a new birth, we can indeed sense the presence of God in our lives. As Pope Francis has said recently in his reflections on the birth of Jesus, ‘God’s ways are astonishing… in this babe we see God acting exactly as we do: He sleeps, He takes milk from his mother, cries and plays like every other child.’ He continues: ‘The nativity scene shows God as he came into our world, but it also makes us reflect on how our life is part of God’s life (Admirabile Signum 8).
Mary, we read, ‘treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Lk 2:19). Touched by the beauty of this celebration, can we not do the same? May we too remember that the coming of Jesus, the Christ, lies at the heart of our living, for he became one with us so that we might become one with him. As this great truth seeps into our minds and hearts, we begin to find our own answer to the great question ‘Who do you say I am?’ In reply we say to him, ‘Come, Lord Jesus! And to each other: ‘Come, let us adore him!’ Therein we find our greatest hope and deepest joy.
A happy and holy Christmas to you all!
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster