Homily for Christmas Day 2019
This is, to say the least, a special time of the year. It is a season of goodwill. Have you noticed that people are kinder at this time? Maybe not everyone but generally there is a nicer feel in our world. This is what Christmas does to people. The birth of Christ brings out the best in us. It can bring us together and help us to forget our differences.
A wonderful example of this happened in the First World War. It was a famous incident that happened on Christmas day, when the British and German troops were fighting each other in trenches. The trenches were so close they could hear each other speak. Then on Christmas day some of the German soldiers started to sing carols, they sang ‘Silent Night’, then the British soldiers joined in. Then an amazing thing happened. Both British and German soldiers put their rifles down, left the safety of their trenches and stood in no-mans land. They shook hands and wished each other a merry-Christmas. Then they played a football match. It went to extra time and the Germans won on penalties! This coming together only happened once but it has never been forgotten. Such is the transforming power of Christmas.
We continue to sing carols today. Silent night and O come all ye Faithful and O little town of Bethlehem and others. They still have the power to move us. That is because they are about the greatest story ever told. A story that gives us hope, something to believe in when at times we can be tempted to give up. Hope is such an important virtue. It helps us to keep going when we feel like giving up. This hope, this belief that the birth of Christ gives us, will not deceive. It is real. It’s what makes us optimists. And you know what an optimists believes: that all will be well, that God has the power to save us and lift us up.
So all of us need to hear these words. We need encouragement at times because we all face difficulties of one kind or another. All of us have that in common. I saw a profile of a famous woman in a newspaper the other day. She was smiling and clearly happy. And there was a short profile of her life. You could be envious of such a person and we can be. We can look at such people and wish we had their lives, their looks, their money, their opportunities. But like this well-known personality you only get a small percentage, maybe 10% of who they are and what their life is like. She didn’t tell us about that part of her life which is full of pain and darkness. No matter who we are we have difficulties and problems that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Well, today, the birth of Christ gives us hope that in spite of these difficulties and problems all will be well. Joy can replace sadness, even though these difficulties and problems may not disappear. We can live with them provided we have hope; and that is what Christ has come to bring. This is why it is the greatest story ever told. On this day Christ our Saviour was born. He came to give us life, he came to give us peace and he came to give us hope. No wonder we want to sing those beautiful carols because they capture in words and music the way we should be feeling on this day. It is a day to rejoice and to give God thanks for the gift of His son.
2nd Sunday of Advent
Just 16 days left before Christmas. Some people are very organized; they have bought their Christmas presents already. I suspect that most haven’t. In the meantime we have the general election which will take our minds off Christmas for a while. The result, whichever way it goes, may spoil some peoples’ Christmas. Should we Catholics be concerned about the result; I hope the answer is obvious; of course we should. The result could bring about the biggest change in this country since the second world war. But you know, there is a bigger picture. Even if we leave Europe life will go on; the sun will rise the next day.
We should be concerned about the future of our country but there is something more important than the general election, and that is our preparation for Christmas. Now that might seem that I am out of touch with reality; surely nothing is more important than the election. Well, I am not saying it isn’t important, just that preparation for Christmas is more so. And I don’t mean shopping for presents but something much more personal; our own preparation. Because if we get it right it will affect not only the way we enjoy Christmas but the rest of our lives.
Now the preaching of John the Baptist can seem as far away from our present reality as you can get. All we hear these days is the preaching of our politicians. But today, here in this church, we have listened to the message of John the Baptist, and that isn’t political, it’s not to win votes, or to gain power. Rather, it is a message for life. There is a slogan, isn’t there; you often see it on the back of cars: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. Well, the message of John the Baptist, is similar: it’s not just for Christmas it’s for life. John tells us to “repent” and to “prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight”. So, why should this be so relevant to us 2000 years later? Because it is a message of eternal value.
As we prepare for Christmas it is so easy to neglect ourselves, and by that I mean our spiritual selves. If we really want to enjoy Christmas, the birth of Christ, then we should prepare ourselves spiritually. I am sure that many of you like me, enjoyed Christmas as children; it was a magic time. Many a parent or grandparent today enjoys Christmas through the eyes of their children. There is a simplicity and innocence about being a child that we adults often lose. When we grow out of childhood we lose our innocence and become much more complicated and often unhappy. John the Baptist is saying that you can rediscover that innocence by “preparing a way for the Lord”. What he means by “preparing a way” is to get rid of all the obstacles in our hearts that can get in the Lord’s way as He comes to us. And the biggest obstacles are our sins. It is our sins that make us unhappy and cynical and selfish. It is our sins that prevent us from enjoying Christmas as we did as children.
So this is the deal: this Advent go to confession. Tell the priest your sins. Don’t be ashamed if you haven’t been for years; many Catholics have stopped going to confession. I sat in the confessional the other day for an hour and hardly anyone came. If you do sincerely confess your sins then I guarantee that your Christmas will be jollier: you will be at peace with yourself and with God. There can be no better present that you can give to yourself this Christmas.