The following is the text of Bishop Brendan’s Homily – Christmas 2017.
In the beginning was the Word
The Word was with God
and the Word was God….
The Word was the true light….
But the world did not know him, nor accept him… ‘He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him’
These first verses of the Gospel of St John are a reflection on the events described more concretely by St Luke which was read last night at the Midnight Mass: the story of Mary and Joseph and the Census of Caesar Augustus and they going up to Bethlehem…
‘While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger….because there was no room for them in the inn’
It’s a very succinct and matter of fact story as given by St Luke. A child is born. It’s a very common and ordinary thing. For example if we are an hour at Mass today, the estimated number of little children born into the world as we celebrate is 15,060! [Let’s offer a little prayer for them…
What’s lovely in this story is that the child is immediately wrapped up warmly and lovingly ‘in swaddling clothes’ by his mother and laid gently to rest… but then, it’s in a ‘manger’ – the first hint of something not so normal and immediately confirmed by ‘because there was no room for them in the inn’. Not for the child or his family. Homeless. Out in the cold. ‘He came to his own domain, and his own people did not accept him’ is how St John puts it, writing in his old age, long after this Christmas infant had been executed as a criminal.
How little our world changes. Everybody knows the figures today in our own Republic. 3000 children plus without a home of their own. Along with their families
But then John goes on to tell us ‘But for all who did accept him, who believe in him, he gave power to become children of God’. What is so good and normal in the Christmas story is the Mother who wraps the infant up warm and safe in swaddling clothes. No doubt with the help of the father. As you and I were warm and safe. [So much to be thankful for]: this unexpected unplanned infant, at least as far as Mary and Joseph were initially concerned. And it is the couple alone, mother and father, that matters to the tiny mite. And their welcome and love. Isn’t that all that matters to any of us? – that there be someone who accepts us, with welcome and love and throws the blanket round us? We heard of Mary’s fear and perplexity at the idea of her bearing a child in the Annunciation story that was yesterday morning’s Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Advent.
Not their plan, but very much God’s plan, this pregnancy and birth. The angel of God is clear to the shepherds: ‘I bring you good news of great joy for all the people’. All the people. There is no such thing as a private birth. Each birth is surely ‘for the people’…all people…the future. The great 17th Century English poet John Donne, speaking of death said ‘every man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee’. And in the same way we can say: Every child’s birth enhances me because I am involved in Humankind’ so never send to know for whom the great throng of the heavenly host is praising God and singing. It is for thee, for you and me and every child conceived and born.
Christmas then is wonderful not just for children but for us all and for every little baby: for each one is part of a far greater design and plan, to which each one is essential. [And when St Paul in the Second reading last night speaks in challenging terms to us all ‘we must live good and religious lives here in this present world’, this is what he is saying:] the birth of Jesus, this child for whom there was no room, proclaims to us all that we are each part in our birth of a far greater mystery and marvel than meets the eye: the mystery that is life flourishing and continuing to the greater glory of the Creator God and Father of all. The Christmas story is so loved precisely because it is all about the revelation of the wondrous mystery that is each little infant…and each one of us? Where would we be without the mystery that is the divine dimension in us? Plunged into narrow and short-sighted self-worship, a dark that needs dispelling if we and life are to thrive and blossom.
The child Jesus for whom there was no room in the inn…and for whom very often still there is no room…is very God as we sing in the great carol ‘Adeste Fideles’ (O come all ye Faithful) truly God from God and Light from Light… so we will all know who we are, and every tiny infant [and every one in our fragility] sacred and utterly worthy of our protection and care….and ‘to be wrapped in the swaddling clothes’ of love and laid gently in the manger of our hearts.
Our song this day then can only be that of the angels in the fields:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men and women who enjoy his favour”