In this beautiful homily for Christmas Day, Year B, Father Hanly looks with wonder at the arrival of the Light of the World.
Readings for Mass during the day
First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6
Gospel: John 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14
(The beginning of this homily is missing, but we understand Father Hanly was telling the story of his first memory, which was of his father holding him in his arms and lifting him up to their Christmas tree and showing him the light of the real candles in the tree.)
… and shown the light, the light that brings hope, energy, (inaudible). My first memory that I can recall was full of hope. And, each Christmas, I think of it once a year.
Because God does hold us in His arms. He created us, He maintains us and He sends His Son, the Light the World, that we might be guided by him, given courage in times of difficulties, and joy in times of celebration.
And so it is that, this Christmas, we rejoice, for the light has come, the light that shines into hearts that are open and ready to receive it. And that light gives great hope and renewed energy and renewed courage as it drives back the darkness before it.
I think it’s fairly appropriate these days as many people feel we are facing difficult times. We are so used to being in control of things. But we’re in a situation now where nobody seems to be in control of anything about the immediate, or the far, future.
And it is at times like this that I feel greatly drawn to the truth of Christmas. For the truth of Christmas came at such times. The truth of Christmas came to a people very poor, oppressed, looking for something to chase back the darkness in their lives. And it was God who comes to them and brings them new life and new courage.
So, this Christmas, perhaps for the first time in many Christmases, we are able to understand the deep joy and meaning of the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the Saviour, the coming of the one who will redeem us and bring us new hope and joy.
A child is born to you. Amazing. A great mystery. God becomes man. Not as a warrior, not as a great leader, not as one who will blaze new trails in some new, distant world. He comes as a helpless infant, a sniffling, weeping little child, in need of love, in need of tenderness, in need of a mother and a father to keep him, and to be good to him, and to care for him.
And you wonder. You look at the child and you say, “This is the Son of God!” Indeed, it is a great mystery.
And we don’t know why he did it. But there are some basic understandings of why he would come this way.
It’s because he comes out of love. And love does such things.
If God is going to become one of us, if he is going to enter into our humanity as a human being, he comes to experience the things that every little child experiences: the weakness, the inability to do anything for oneself but reaching out to those around to take care of him.
He would experience the helplessness a child would, he would experience the difficulties of a teenager, and he would experience, of course, the greatest difficulty of all, which is bringing the good news of God’s healing and salvation to a world that perhaps would not accept him.
And he would end on a cross, so that no one could say…
When God comes to show us how much He loves us, He Himself sends His Son, and His Son endures the pain, he endures the desperation, he endures the edges of despair, all we fear in every one of our lives.
And he turns with love, and he turns with grace, and he turns to his Father at the moment he gives up his soul and he says, “Father, they are Your children, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And that, of course, is the meaning of the Incarnation. For God Himself has come to share our pain, almost to apologize for the pain that many of us continue to experience in our lives.
Because this is what love does.
And out of this comes the great joy of knowing that we are never alone. That God is with us through our joys and our sorrows, and that we walk with Him into all eternity.
Christmas is a wonderful time, but it’s just a day. It’s a day when we experience God’s love coming in a special way. And we turn to each other and we feel a certain kind of warmth for each other, and a willingness to forgive each other, perhaps be more patient with each other.
It’s just one of those kind of days where nothing has to be preached and we don’t have to be told this and that. We feel deep in our own hearts that we are in the presence of a love that we can barely understand, a love beyond all telling, of God’s great love for all of us.
And then what happens when Christmas passes? What happens when all the presents are put aside? And what is the challenge that Christmas gives us that we can bring the feelings of this day further, as Jesus meant?
For when Jesus came, you notice he didn’t ask us to do anything. He didn’t say, “Now you see, I have done this and you must do it.”
The only thing he told us was, “Love one another as I have loved you. Love not me, but love one another as I have loved you. And if you do that you will change the world.”
I would like to end this with a small excerpt by Howard Thurman. The challenge of Christmas it is called. It makes us aware that when you are the instruments of His love in the world, we are His hands, His eyes, His feet, His heart. And it is this that makes the challenge of Christmas. And here’s the way this little poem goes:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
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This homily was delivered on 25th December 2008.
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