By editor - 26 December, 2014
The message of Christmas is a message of transformation. In the first reading, from the book of Isaiah, this transformation is described as a passage from darkness into light which brings with it gladness and joy.
The transformation is described as a passage from a culture of warfare and battle into a culture of peace, not just an ordinary peace, but a peace which endures.
How do we achieve a peace which endures? Around the world we have seen peace-processes and “new-springtimes” fail; we have seen peace-processes which become protracted and consequently fragile or precarious; we have seen new conflicts break out even in unexpected places.
A peace which endures can never be the work – no matter how important – just of negotiators or diplomats or of military intervention. Enduring peace is the work of real communities which rise above divisiveness and arrogance and seek the fundamental foundations of a peace built on caring and mutual respect.
Peace is not just the absence of conflicts. In outwardly apparent situations of peace and prosperity there can very often be a pervading underlying absence of the true roots of peace.
In this city we have become more aware of the extent of the crisis of homelessness. The shock of the death on our streets of one man, has elicited, thank God, not just indignation, but a concrete resolve to address at least the most glaring dimensions of the homelessness crisis before Christmas.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the Lord Mayor and his staff and to the many organisations working in this area of homelessness for what they have achieved in a short time.
But the problem of homelessness is much greater and requires a real shift in thinking and social policy. We need a society which will be able once and for all to say to those who live in the terrible darkness of not knowing how long they may have a safe roof over the heads, that we really want then to experience truly something of the light of human care and sustained personal hope.
The message of Christmas is a message of transformation, of the passage from darkness to light. To celebrate the Feast of the Nativity this evening and remain insensitive to the roots of the tensions and exclusion, of the divisions and inequalities in our society, and of the many factors which entrap human hearts in darkness would be to betray the very meaning of the Feast.
The reading from the letter of Saint Paul to Titus, on its part, gives us some first indications as to how we Christians are called to live the Christmas message of renewal and light. Christmas is about how we are called “to leave aside all those things which do not lead to God”.
But to do that, we have to understand who our God is! We should never overlook how easy it is to fall into a false understanding of God and what the consequences are of such a false understanding.
A false understanding of God is by its nature something which does not lead to God. Many can outwardly profess that they believe in God and live in a manner which is far from God.
Professed and practising Christians are not by that fact automatically true ambassadors and witnesses to who God is. Not only can they be on the wrong path to God, but by their way of life they can turn others away from their real search for God.
The Gospel reading then tells the story of the birth of Jesus. It is a story of how God breaks into our human history, accompanied by the praise of the angels who announce his coming and the peace that he brings.
The striking thing is the manner in which God reveals himself to us. Let us look more carefully at how God breaks into human history at Christmas and teaches us the ways of God. After centuries of preparation and of dialogue with his people this most extraordinary event of God breaking into human history reaches a climax in the birth of a vulnerable and helpless child.
How can this child be God? Is God not all powerful? Is this humble birth simply a necessary prologue for Jesus to reach human maturity and then to reveal God’s true power? No, God reveals his power precisely in appearing among us as one who is vulnerable and helpless. That is who our God is.
What is God saying to us? What is he telling us about himself and about us? Christmas is not just a nice fairy tale. It is about what God is like and thus about what sort of people his believers should be.
Who God is tells us who we are and should be and what it means to be a human being. When we get our understanding of God wrong, we get our understanding of the whole human project wrong.
We have so often looked on God as a harsh punitive God. We have thus made his message into a catalogue of commandments and “do-not’s”.
We have too often turned our false idea of God into a policeman and his Church into a prison of narrow ideas, which rather than freeing people entraps them either into the scruples of guilt and feeling inadequate or into an arrogance of feeling holier and superior to others.
If we get the wrong idea of God, we get our own self-identity wrong.
The passage from darkness into light comes when we understand the God who reveals himself in helplessness. Where do we seek that God, if not in being alongside and identifying ourselves with those who are helpless and vulnerable?
It is not simply a question of doing something good for the helpless. It is about doing something good through understanding what their helplessness means and thus stripping-off from ourselves any traces of false superiority, arrogance or simply looking after ourselves first and above all.
There are, thank God, many examples of such deeply-rooted Christian living in our society. I wish to express my personal gratitude to all those who contributed to the Crosscare Food bank appeal.
On one Sunday in Advent we collected over 120 tons of food, more food on one Sunday this year than in three Sundays last year. The Mass-going Catholic community in this Archdiocese is a truly generous community.
Sadly, that increase in generosity is being accompanied by an increase in need. Crosscare is doubling its supply of food; later today the Knights of Saint Columbanus will host their annual Christmas lunch at the RDS and will have to double the number of people it serves compared to last year.
Economic recovery and sustainability can be measured by the standards of International Financial Institutions, but the picture will be incomplete when it is not accompanied by a brutally honest index of social casualty.
Jesus appears tonight in the simplicity of his birth. Our God cannot be a God of empty pageantry or superficiality.
Children will be led to happiness not by the extravagance of the gifts they receive, but by being taught to appreciate the simple things. Simplicity rather than extravagance is what leads us to the things of God.
Simplicity rather than extravagance opens the door to that path from darkness into light and which alone brings with it gladness and joy and a peace which endures in our hearts and in our world: the peace of the new born babe, Jesus our Saviour.
May we be blessed with the experience of a joyful and a peaceful Christmas and may we learn – right from this night –to ensure that others too can experience the gladness which Christ’s birth brings.”