Brothers and sisters, here we are. Here we are at Christmas, the real Christmas. Here we are, not just in Aberdeen, but somehow in Bethlehem. Here we are in the cave, the stable, the barn, or whatever it may have been. And the whole of creation is here with us: angels, stars, animals: “the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib” (Is 1:3). Abraham, Moses and David are here. The prophets, led by Isaiah – “for there is a child born to us, a son given to us” – and seconded by Micah: “But you (Bethlehem), Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, from you will come for me a future ruler of Israel, whose origins go back to the distant past, to the days of old” (Micah 5:1). Mary and Joseph are here. Jesus, the Child, the Christ is here, and everyone, past, present and to come, everyone who belongs to him is here. The ever-growing number, mass, multitude of Christians is here – 20 centuries of them, and how many more to come? – they / we are all here. All believers, all the baptised into his Body. More than that, to use the phrase of the second reading, “the whole human race” is here, some not knowing where they are or with their wills and faces resolutely turned away. But here. The little, forgotten folk of history, and the great names – from Caesar Augustus down to the big noises and names of now are all here too. As the candle of this child’s life is lit, we can say what we will say when we light the candle of Easter: “Christ yesterday and today; the Beginning and the End; the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him; and all the ages. To him be glory and power; through every age and for ever. Amen.” Yes, the whole of Jesus is here: God from God and Word made flesh, the Nativity and the Resurrection, the Crib and the Cross; Mary’s womb and the empty tomb. The mysteries of Christ sing antiphonally to each other and, as the Holy Father loves to say, “Everything is connected”. The whole of God is here: the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit. This manger and its child is the point of convergence – the centre, the still point, the origin and goal – of everything. And here we are, at home.
I’m not just trying to be lyrical or imaginative. I’m trying to catch the loveliness, the goodness, the reality of this night; its inmost meaning. I seem to have been hearing recently so many voices – in the media, in private conversation, inside myself as well – voices saying in different ways, I’m homeless. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, any or all of these. I’m uprooted, dislocated, displaced. “This isn’t the country I grew up in, I remember from my childhood or came to so many years ago.” “What has happened to my family?” “What is happening in society?” “I’m not where I want to be, not in a good place.” It isn’t by chance that migration is the most visible social phenomenon around; it’s symbolic as well as real. In the end, though, beyond all its historical causes, there’s something deeper. The Bible gives us the key to the strange unhappiness within us and the way we evict each other: it goes beyond economics and politics. It’s to do with the paradise, the Eden, every one of us has lost. We are all congenitally homeless. In Elgin stands Greyfriars Convent, a rebuild of a medieval Franciscan Friary, passed through many mutations. After the Sisters of Mercy left – now the Dominican Sisters are there – I noticed an inscription over a doorway: “Nulli certa domus”. It’s a line from Virgil (Aeneid VI). It means, No-one has a certain home. At the monastery of Pluscarden, six miles away, I often used to watch the pheasants at the end of the day, as the light was failing. They had been out all day pecking for food in the fields. As dark fell, they came back to their roosts. After a final flurry of clucking, they’d fly to their branches in the pines, and fall asleep – at home.
And here’s the truth and the hope of tonight. It’s strange. “There was no room for them in the inn”, and yet the cave, the stable, the barn, whatever it may have been, has room for everyone and everything. The big people diminish in front of the crib and the little people grow, and everyone who wants to can see. Here “God was homeless and all men are at home”. It was only a passing place for the Holy Family, but it’s home for us. “The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head”, the child would say as a man. It’s so strange: Jesus’ whole life was a passage, an exile, until he returned to his Father. And even now, as in the Russian legend, he’s the unrecognised vagrant going from village to village, wandering through history.
Tonight the Homeless One gives us a home. He gives us himself. He is the home we hanker for. The first Christmas came and went; very Christmas comes and goes. The Crib is put up and taken down. The Holy Family moved on. But now we have a home, given us by God. A certain home, a lasting city, a good place. Its name and address is Jesus. He was where Mary lived her whole life, wherever she lived. And so for us.
On the night he was betrayed, about to pass from this world to the Father, not in the cave of Bethlehem (the House of Bread), but in an Upper Room in Jerusalem, having instituted the Eucharist, he declared himself our home: “Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make a home in him… Remain / stay / make your home in me, as I in you…Remain / stay / make your home in my love.” Earlier he had said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, makes his home in me and I in him.”
Let’s go tonight, go quickly, gratefully, go to the Homeless Child and find ourselves at home.
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 25 December 2019)