Christmas Eve 2016
I spent ages thinking about what to say this evening… well, when I say ages, I mean, about 30 minutes. The trouble is there is so much I could say. Now if I said everything I wanted to say we’d be here till the morning mass starts at 9 a.m. By which time you’d probably all have gone or you’d be asleep! Which reminds me of a joke Tommy Cooper told, about his local priest. This priest was preaching one night and noticed a man in the front row fast asleep! So he said to the person beside him, “Can you wake him up”? The man replied, “I don’t think that would be right”. “Why not”? Said the priest. “Because, said the man, “I wasn’t the one who put him to sleep”! I don’t want to put you to sleep either, and it was with that in mind that I had to decide what to say in a few words… well, perhaps more than a few, but I promise I won’t preach till tomorrow morning!
Actually, the summary in the Sunday missal, which many of you have, sums up nicely everything I want to say: ‘Tonight we celebrate the birth of a child who was to bring the joy of God’s saving love to the whole world’. I reflected on the key words in that sentence: night or darkness, then joy and love. And I see a contrast between dark and light: on this dark night, a light has come into the world. That light is Christ, the son of God. Now he didn’t come into the world to remain in a crib, but by his life to bring us light, peace, joy and love. This was why he was born. This is what we believe, this is our faith. This is why we are here.
Isaiah predicted this in the first reading. He is a great prophet; it isn’t Christmas without the readings from the prophet Isaiah. They are so uplifting and optimistic. I’ve chosen just a few lines from what he said in our first reading: ‘…on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone…For the yoke that was weighing on him, the bar across his shoulders, the rod of his oppressor, these you break…’ The first part is about shadow or darkness and light. Surely, most of us can sometimes live in a ‘land of deep shadow’… Some people live in darkness for a long time; and I don’t mean they’re blind, or don’t see the sun. And yet some of the people I know who live in darkness seem not to have a care in the world. You remember that lovely Pope John Paul I, who lived for just 33 days. I’m sure you’ll remember his smile. “Yes, I smile, he told a reporter, and I always will smile, but inside I’m suffering”.
Then Isaiah speaks about oppression. Again, it can be a common experience; we don’t literally have that yoke Isaiah speaks about weighing us down or a bar across our shoulders. But we can be weighed down by circumstances in life. Life can be cruel and unfair, life can be heavy and hard to bear. No one gets through life without experiencing some kind of oppression. For some its heavier than others; but for all of us its unpleasant. But notice the prophet Isaiah he doesn’t finish on a downer; of course not, he goes on to tell us how this yoke, this bar will be broken. ‘On those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.’ And that light we are celebrating tonight. It is why we are here. That light is Christ, a sweet and fragile baby, but this baby is the Son of God. And for this reason, and for good reason, we rejoice.
This time of the year the days start to get longer; we are past the winter solstice; more light is coming into our world. I love this phenomenon, even though we don’t see the extra light for a while, but I know for certain that the days are getting longer, in spite of the dark clouds and rain. And this thought makes me happy. We should be happy tonight, because on this very night Christ our Saviour was born for us. He has come to set us free from the yoke and the bar of oppression, from whatever it is that make us unhappy. He has come as light into our darkness.
To finish, I want to refer to another Pope, many of you will remember Pope John XXIII, now a saint. And you may remember the night of his election, how he talked to the crowd in such homely terms. He told them to go home and to kiss their children for him. He had filled them with hope and peace, and he wanted them not to keep it to themselves but to share it with others, especially their families. Well, tonight, I ask you to go home and share the good news that you have just heard with others, with those you love and care for. Tell them what you have heard: that God loves you in this holy babe; that this child has come to give us all a peace that is greater than any suffering, and light that is greater than any darkness.