SMC Christmas Eve 2018
Never work with children or animals, they say. And while the life of the parish priest doesn’t really involve much work with animals - ignoring our three cats - it certainly involves children and babies, which can be a tricky business. Indeed I recently baptised a child and having returned baby to parent, the child promptly burped and out came a little bit of sick. Lovely! And I’ve also baptised babies who are so keen that they’ve grabbed me by the little finger and refused to let go, which has made proceeding with the service a little tricky.
And yet, despite these hazards, here we are celebrating that God became a human being, starting life inside the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and then as a baby for us, so that we might know God better.
It is as a child that God comes, the one foretold in our first reading. The prophecy of Isaiah is from the Old Testament, which looks forward to the coming of the Saviour. It comes from an era six hundred years before the words were to find their most complete fulfilment, six hundred years before the birth of our Saviour which we celebrate tonight. This passage of scripture was likely to be interpreted at the time as a general job description, if you like, of what a King would look like: “a child born for us,“ not specifically a child but in the sense of someone reborn to be wonder-counsellor, a mighty God. The Old Testament prophecies expected God to relate to His people through a future King who would govern well.
Christmas changes that for Christians, for while we look forward to the return of Jesus at the end of time, ultimately we know He has already come, born tonight, on this most holy night, God-with-us. We can now relate to God in a different way because, as we will pray in the Eucharistic Prayer later, “our frailty is assumed by your Word,” and the Word is Jesus Christ because Jesus communicates to us the Father’s love, as St Paul put it in our second reading, “God’s grace has been revealed.” This is revealed only in Jesus, that’s why we gather here tonight to celebrate that revealing, that opening, that unveiling. You may remember the film the “Wizard of Oz” when there’s the moment of revelation when Toto the dog and Dorothy get to peak behind the curtain to see who’s turning the dials and making the voice of the great Wizard of Oz. Well tonight, we’re invited to peer behind the curtain to see the God created us.
This night when the world changes is one where we are suddenly and rather unnervingly reminded that humanity and divinity are compatible to dwell in such a union as we see in Christ Jesus. Our experience of sin warps our view of human nature: we see people killing each other and so assume human beings must be fundamentally flawed and beyond redemption or we end up categorising certain people as not really being human. Neither of these solutions are the Christian option; we rather make sense of that by recognising how wonderful it is that human beings are made free and that some in turn choose to abuse that freedom by being so wicked, in other words the sin problem.
In two ways what we celebrate tonight, the birth of God-Incarnate, the Word-made-Flesh, helps to sort that problem out. First, Jesus shows us how we’re meant to live, the one who feeds us with Himself in this Mass. He teaches us to forgive our enemies, to worship God above all things and before all things, to unite our will with His, to embrace the suffering that is needed, to keep at arms length people who self-define as important but associate rather with the lowly. He is our pattern as our first hymn out it, not only “our childhood’s pattern … tears and smiles like us He knew,” but also the pattern for our whole existence.
Second, Jesus reconciles us with the Father. The sin that you and I commit disrupts the relationship we had with God. In Genesis 2, that’s why we hear Adam and Eve hiding themselves from God when they first sin. Similarly, a thief’s relationship with the person from whom he steals is damaged and the person who lies to us distances themselves from us. Often it’s quite hard to mend those relationships by ourselves, it often takes a third party, not someone involved in the dispute, to provide an occasion maybe for us to get along once again. And at times we are called upon as Christians to be such people, involved in reconciling different people and helping others to talk to each other once again, within our families, in our work places and even in our church family.
Jesus fulfils that role in mending the broken relationship human beings have with God because of our sin. Human beings can’t mend it adequately by themselves and God in His providence discerns the best way to do it is through sending His Son, who is 100% God, 100% human, to be this reconciliation, this breaking down of barriers between God and Humanity. Sometimes this has happened so effectively, that we think we don’t need the Church at all, that we can access God individually. But God doesn’t just redeem you or me on this holy night, He redeems humanity and that redeemed humanity is to find its voice with others in the Church.
I read recently a line of St Theresa of Avila who was explaining why she wrote one of her books five hundred years ago in Spain. It’s a book thats been subsequently called the “Way of Perfection” with some tips on prayer and the spiritual life. I commend it to you. She explained her reason for writing the book by saying, “All my longing was and still is that since [God] has so many enemies and so few friends that these few friends be good ones.” St Theresa wanted the people who believe in God to relate to Him in a better way. What a wonderful hope for us as we celebrate this change in our relationship with God. Let’s respond as those did two thousand years ago: with knees bent like the wise men; with eagerness to follow his bright Light like the shepherds; with a loving focus on the Lord’s Body like Mary His Mother; willing to break away from social pressures like St Joseph did. May they pray for us as we too seek to know the Son better. For God was born for us as a burping baby to show us it’s good to be human because we’re made to be in union with Him. Amen.