The Bishop's homily for Christmas

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"On that first Christmas night (Day), which we now take for-granted, the whole of history was turned upside down. Something happened, that had never happened before, and which would never happen again. The whole of human history, the whole of God’s saving plan for humanity, had been moving, guided the Holy Spirit, towards that moment when God would reveal himself in the promised Messiah. But that first Christmas God revealed himself not, as many expected, in an earth-shattering display of divine power on earth with all the majesty of a Warrior- King; but rather, the Son of God entered our world as we entered it: out of a young woman’s body, where he had been for 9 months, breathing, feeding, growing, moving. God took on our human flesh in the birth of Jesus to Mary and to Joseph – a birth which took place in the most inauspicious of circumstances, in an obscure town in Palestine in the darkness of a night when most people were totally wrapped up in themselves and in their own concerns, unheeding and insensible to the needs of a young woman who desperately needed somewhere to give birth to her child.

"On that first Christmas, the Son of God emptied himself of glory and entered our world as a powerless, weak and vulnerable little baby, just like we did. God became in Jesus, as we are, in all things but sin. He didn’t come into the world to condemn us, nor to Lord it over us. He didn’t come with any worldly ambition to be successful and powerful in the eyes of the world. Instead He grew up, in accordance with the will of his Father, speaking the language of, and living out, SELF-GIVING love. In so doing, he revealed to us that the nature of God is LOVE, and that God is always generous with his love. Take as an example the first miracle that Jesus performed, at the Wedding Feast at Cana where, you will recall, Mary noticed that the wine was running out and nudged her Son into action. The miracle that Jesus performed was not just a response to a need – a little extra wine would have been enough to spare the embarrassment of the newly married couple; but it was a miracle that revealed the nature of God, the nature of Jesus, as one of abundance and generosity. That first miracle was to be indicative of the generous and self-giving way that Jesus lived his life and responded to those around him, and indicative also of his ultimate act of self-giving love, in laying down his life on the Cross for us, and for all humanity.

"The child, whose birth we celebrate this Christmas, grew up to be the man who, throughout his life, showed us that God is SELF-GIVING LOVE, always generous with his love. He is the one who invites us to live our lives in a similarly God-like manner: ‘Love one another, as I have loved you’.

"This Sacred Night (Day), when we celebrate, in the birth of Jesus, the immensity of God’s generous love for us, is surely a good time for each of us to reflect a little upon just how generous and self-giving our own lives are. How much of our busy and pressurised lives are often so centred on ourselves, and on our own needs, that perhaps we have grown a little blind to the needs of those around us? How often do we take the time to reflect upon all that we have, rather than bemoaning what we don’t have? Because I believe the more grateful we are for the good people in our lives, for our possessions, opportunities, gifts and talents, the more generous we are likely to be in using them to show love, care, concern and appreciation to others.

"This brief time of personal reflection is central to a true Christian celebration of Christmas, because as Pope Francis reminds us in his own forthright manner:

“Loving others is a spiritual force drawing us to union with God; indeed, one who does not love others ‘walks in the darkness’ and ‘does not know God’. When instead we live out a spirituality of drawing near to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God…It is more blessed to give than to receive… We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.”

"Alongside the many gifts that we have each bought this Christmas and have given or will shortly give to others, may each of us, in imitation of Christ Jesus ensure that we give generously of ourselves to those around us; not hiding behind the material gifts that we give to others, but also ensuring that we give generously of ourselves to them. May we each seek this Christmas to make these next few days a time of self-giving on our part, seeking always the love, care, joy and happiness of those around us, and then we will find that it will be so for us as well. For it is in giving that we receive!"