Homily for Christmas Day Mass

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We’ve got there. We’ve arrived. Christmas is here. ‘A child is born for us, and a son is given to us’ (Introit). The Holy Spirit works through word and sacrament, and Christ is born for us. All the grace of the first Christmas is ours today. We only have to accept it. ‘For the Lord is consoling his people, redeeming Jerusalem’ (Is 52:9). And the words of St John, true ever since that first Christmas, ring out again: ‘The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14).

The 1st reading, from Isaiah, pictures an anonymous messenger with beautiful feet, coming over the mountains to Jerusalem. This messenger, we can say, is this feast, this Christmas day and octave and season (running all the way to the Baptism of the Lord). It comes over the mountains, as it were, over the crest of another year, wrapped in yesterday’s wild wind. It brings good news, heralds peace, brings happiness, proclaims salvation, and tells Zion (Zion is the Church, is us gathered here), tells Zion, ‘Your God is king!’ (cf. Is 52:7).

Yes, Christmas tells us that God is among us. It tells us this year again. Even in the ruins of Jerusalem, even in the tumble-down state of our own heart, in the difficulties of life and the uncertainties of the world, even in the human weaknesses of the Church, God is king. God is here. In Christ, a divine person, the second Person of the blessed Trinity, the Son, ‘the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect icon of his nature’ (Heb 1:3), the Word who is God, takes to himself our humanity, our flesh, our body and soul, and makes it his own. He’s the one in whom ‘the fulness of the godhead dwells bodily’ (Col 2:9). And the glory of this godhead shines through everything he says and does in the body, in the crib, on the cross, in the resurrection. And into that body, that light, that life, we are called. He is a divine person who takes on human nature. So now we’re human persons who can share in the divine nature. Everything in the Church – Scripture and Sacraments and popes and bishops and priests – is at the service of this marriage of humanity and God.

Here’s today’s prayer: ‘O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it, grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.’

It’s solemn, sonorous language. What does it mean in practice? It means that we don’t have to be always cynical or disparaging about each other or ourselves. It means that the humble love of Christ can really enter a human heart and leaven in it from within. It means that the kindness and goodness written deep within us don’t have to be endlessly defeated or undercut by their contraries. It means we can go up as well as down. It means we can get up again when we do go down. The survival of the fittest or the selfish gene are not the only forces at work. There are other ways for us to follow than those of pleasure or possessions or power. There really are such things as faith, hope and love, chastity, poverty and obedience, and all the fruits of the Holy Spirit. There can be saints, people who write another kind of story in the book of life, down to Mother Teresa of Calcutta and John Paul II. Yes, we poor, limited, prejudiced things, can be taken over by the love of God and love of neighbour, all the way to the total gift of ourselves. And, beyond death, we can be raised from the dead and be filled for ever with the glory of God’s humble love.

Isn’t this ‘good news’? Isn’t this astounding?

‘Tell Zion, “Your God is King”’. ‘This is how he reigns,’ said Pope Emeritus Benedict. ‘He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing from us except our love.’ And thanks to that love, ‘we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him and love him.’

Think what that opens up to the human heart!

We can look out on the world and see the badness. It’s there. We can look into our hearts and see the selfishness. It’s there too. And these things can seem like mountains, unshakeable, dominant. But over them come the feet of Christmas, the beautiful promises of Scripture, over them comes a woman with a child. And suddenly they don’t seem, those mountains, so immoveable, so definitive. Christmas means there’s something else around. Christmas means there’s Christ. He is here, in our ruins, and with him comes the real, true meaning of being human. There comes another way of doing, of being, ourselves.

‘Tell Zion, “Your God is king”.

‘I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them.’ This is Pope Francis. It’s Christmas too. ‘I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not for him or her, since no-one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realise that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.’ This is Christmas. This is the Christ-child. This is today. ‘No one, says the Pope, can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love’ (Evangelii Gaudium).

Yes, the Lord is King, the King of love. Let’s hail him as ours!