Father Hanly’s beautiful homily for Midnight Mass, Year A, is all about the Christmas child.
Readings for Midnight Mass for Christmas
First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 96:1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14
Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
Recording of Homily
Apologies: due to problems with the recorder the recording is in 2 parts.
Transcript of Homily
I’ve all kinds of notes and stuff to say to you and I can’t find them. I looked all over and I seem to have lost them.
But it’s Christmas and usually at Christmas there’s only one thing that we have to understand and that’s what bring us together is the child. It’s the child. That is why we’re here. It’s the child.
What a wondrous story we have just heard. How beautiful the imagery of St Luke. St Luke was a foreigner, the only non-Jew to write anything in the Bible, and he wrote his gospel.
And he loved Mary, the teenage mother. And he must have known Joseph, who worried about many things like every father worries about.
The two made a hundred-mile trip all the way from Galilee, all the way down, she already pregnant with the Messiah, with Jesus, and through terrible times and through the desert areas. And it took them two/three weeks because she on the donkey and Joseph walking beside her through the heat and the terrible pain and fear that they were headed to Bethlehem and there they knew no-one.
Even though St Joseph came from the kings of David, he himself was just a simple carpenter. And, of course, the child was the most important thing for both of them. And they came into the village and they couldn’t find a place and her time had come and they worried. And, finally, someone showed them to a cave, a cave that keeps animals. And it was there …
(Apologies tiny bit missing as the recorder cut out but it was switched straight back on again.)
We can’t conceive, we can’t possibly think of how the Son of God could come in such overwhelming situations. Poor family, worse than poor. Nazareth was a place that they used to say nothing of any good can come from Nazareth.
And here they had made their way to the little town of Bethlehem. And she gave birth and she wrapped him in the wrappings, the swaddling clothes, and put him in a manger, a place where the cattle eat.
And there it was the promise from Isaiah, the promise from the prophets, the hope of all Israel, finally, takes on flesh. For this child is not just a child. This child is not just a baby from a poor family in a hopeless little outback in the Roman Empire. This child was God Himself.
And, of course, that is the key why we sit here. We do not come to merely pay our respects to a famous person. We do not come here just because it’s a habitual thing that we have done for two thousand years. We come because this little bit of flesh and blood is God Himself.
And then we wonder. We wonder why. Why would He do this? Why would God, why would He come in this way?
If we loved somebody, if we loved somebody very much and she became pregnant and we were going to care for her, what would we do knowing the value of the child?
We’d find the best place in all the kingdom. We would bring him to places where he would be treated as a king and a lord, as the hope of all civilisation.
And, instead, God decides that God Himself will take on human flesh as a helpless, needy, even dirty, little child, born in such a terrible time, in such a terrible place.
And then to know that he is the Son of God.
And why do we know this?
We know this because, as the scripture says, God so loved the world, so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, His only Son, that we might be healed and we might be saved. God so loved the world. Out of love, He does this. Out of love, He comes poor and needy.
Why? Because it is love and love is never triumphant. Love never marches down streets with armies in battle array. It doesn’t show off in great desire to have people follow and cheer.
Love is small. Love, you hardly even notice it until you do not have it and then it’s like a pain in the heart and a pain in everything that we do.
And this is what God is saying: the only way you’re going to learn to love is by loving the child, the Christmas child, the needy child, he who knows his need for his Father, he who knows his need for his mother and for his foster father, he who knows that he himself is humble and poor.
And that is the beginning of the great lesson that the world is still trying to learn. It is the great lesson that we gather here ourselves seeking, to teach us, teach us to be humble, teach us to be giving, teach us to be forgetful of ourselves as Mary was forgetful of herself when she took on the burden and said to the angel, “Thy will be done,” changing her life forever, all her hopes as a child bride gone because he would become the centre of her life.
Christmas is wonderful, but it only belongs to children. It doesn’t belong to adults. Because a child can understand the things I’ve been telling you. But adults: “Well, maybe it’s a bit of a myth.” “Well, maybe it’s worth thinking about.” “Well, maybe it’s a nice story.”
But that God Himself should become a helpless, needy child, that He might show us that the beginning of love is to be helpless and needy and recognise it — an end to the arrogance and pride, an end to the marching armies that are just sending people out to their death, an end to all of this nonsense.
If we could only learn and put into practise what we have seen at Bethlehem.
The child grows and the child is humble and the child loves and the child makes no demands. And the child lives with ordinary people, accepting us, taking on our humanity so that we might learn how precious our humanity is.
If we could only understand the greatness of our own lives because God has given them as He has given His Son to us.
If we could begin to understand these things, it would indeed change the whole world.
And it has changed the whole world, for we sing the songs of tonight:
“God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day.”
And it is as children. We are not called the adults of God. We are not called the leaders of God. We are called the children of God and every child understands.
I remember myself standing in front, with my father, of the crib outside the church and my father explaining to me, “You see that little baby in there? That’s God, that’s Christ.”
Did I say, “Oh, well maybe”? No, I said, “Yes, of course it is.”
“And these are the angels.” “Yes, of course they are.”
“And there’s Joseph the carpenter taking care of a family.” “Of course it is.”
“And there is Mary giving her whole life and everything she had in one sentence, ‘Thy will be done.’”
Children understand. Children understand the great mysteries of life.
And today we celebrate the fact that we are indeed the children, the children of God.
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This homily was delivered on 24th December 2010.
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