We’ve come to Bethlehem. We’ve heard the words of the angels: ‘Glory to God in the highest’. We’ve come down from the hills and found the cave in the rock where the animals are stabled. We’ve seen the child. We’ve felt the grace. I’m talking of us and all the believers throughout the world who’ve kept and are keeping this Christmas, and have been at least to the Vigil Mass or the Night Mass or the Dawn Mass, or have kept what they could as they can. And we know that there are eight days of Christmas before us, the Christmas Octave, or Twelve Days, or all the days to the Epiphany and the feast of the Lord’s Baptism, or that in some churches the Christmas trees will be there till 2nd February.
‘A child is born for us and a son is given to us; his sceptre of power rests on his shoulder; and his name will be Messenger of Great Counsel.’ That was the Entrance Antiphon. ‘For they see the Lord face to face’, says Isaiah. And saying that says the whole of Christmas.
Each of the Masses I’ve mentioned, each of the feasts of the Christmas season, have their own prayers and readings. It’s dish after dish, none of them quite the same. But this Mass, the Mass of Christmas Day, is the most reflective of all. It’s as though we have been spending time at the Crib and then have gone outside and walked under the stars, thinking what it is we’ve been shown, what we’ve seen. The shepherds have gone back to their sheep, the angels have returned to heaven. Mary has a moment to ponder. And in the space opened up, there are thoughts to be had. We hear the opening of the Letter to the Hebrews: ‘At various times and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is. He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, sustaining the universe.’ These are solemn, mysterious words. If only we had time to linger on them! Extraordinary words to hear beside a newborn baby’s cradle! Then the evangelist John begins to speak, words we know well: ‘In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’ And this Word has become flesh and lived among us. He began his life among us in the arms of a Jewish girl. And we have seen this unexpected glory: this God who humbles and hides himself. In our pride, we can miss him. But to all who accept him, says John, is given the power to become children of God.
This child comes from God’s eternity. He was already in the world, keeping it whole. He was already the purpose of everything: creation, evolution, geology, humanity. And now he’s among us as one of us, ‘grace and truth’ in person, come to right everything from inside, come to lead creation to its goal. This is big. But what does it mean to me at 8am on a Monday morning? What does it mean to me stuck at the lights? What does it mean when you walk through a cemetery? ‘Grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ, says the Collect, who humbled himself to share in our humanity?’ ‘Share in his divinity’? What does it mean? So many questions!
Here’s one anyway: what difference does this Child make?
There’s a sense in which he changes nothing. There were Herods then and there are Herods now. People died in those days and we die now. People then felt overworked and underpaid and we do too. Nothing has changed but everything is changed. Imagine a darkened room, and a light going on. Nothing moves in the room, but everything in the room is changed. ‘Today, says the liturgy, a great light has shone upon the earth.’ Everything is different.
And what is this light? It’s Jesus himself. He is the difference. ‘Grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ’, says St John. He is God’s free download of Christmas. He is the Light from Light, and he brings light: the light of knowing we are loved. ‘Henceforth and for ever, Pope Francis has said, the infinite and eternal God is God with us. He is not far off. We need not search for him in the heavens or in mystical notions. He is close at hand. He became man and he will never withdraw from our humanity, which he has made his own’. Can there be any greater endorsement of our humanity, our life than this? God has made us part of himself. Any greater ‘yes’ to who and what we are? In the person of his Son God has taken us on, body and soul, taken us into himself. This affects everyone of us, everyone we pass in the street. Every child in the womb, every baby, every youngster, every father, every mother, everyone able, everyone disabled, everyone healthy, everyone dying. Everyone for ever. The heavenly Father wants us. He cherishes our human-ness. Love is affirmation, and affirmation is saying ‘yes’. What greater affirmation could there be than what we call the Incarnation? It’s a yes to our common humanity, to our unique individuality, to our hands and our feet, to our neurophysiology and our spiritual capacities, to our youth and our age. As the Fathers of the Church said centuries ago, a great marriage took place in the womb of the Virgin: the marriage of humanity and divinity in the person of the Word. We hear in the Gospels of Joseph taking Mary into his home, and later the Beloved Disciple doing the same. A pale reflection of what God has done for us : marrying us, offering to adopt us as his children, take us into his Trinitarian home, wanting us to be with himself: a daughter or son who is sister or brother of his beloved Son, ‘one of the family’ for ever.
What difference does Jesus make ? Never again need we say, I’m worthless. Never again, no-one loves me. Never again, what’s the point? We needn’t justify our existence, prove ourselves better, do others down to reassure ourselves, fluff out our feathers. We will do and say those things, of course. We all fall into our own holes or sit on our own little thrones. And life can be short and brutish. But a light has gone on. Nothing has changed and everything is different. There is Jesus. He is the sign and sacrament of it all. He was nailed to a cross, but rose from the dead. And since his mother’s womb and since that empy tomb, nothing need separate us from the love of God made visible in him. God is on our side, by our side. And so we really can say to each other, Happy Christmas!
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen)