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Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Mass of Day

(Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18)

War was never far removed from the experience of Israel, and few indeed would have lived out their lives without having had some experience of its campaigns: not only those waged on foreign soil, but also those undertaken to repulse attacks on the homeland. Certain individuals might even have been caught up in a siege, when the enemy camped outside city walls wherein crowds -- swollen by refugees and suffering shortages of food and drink -- had to hold firm despite mounting hazards for public health and gradual draining of public confidence.  Someone might, indeed, even have personally experienced, or heard an eye-witness account of, an occasion like that pictured for us by the prophet Isaiah in our first reading where anxious watchmen on the look-out had observed a single figure in the distance, running towards them with vigour in his stride and joy in his bearing, a runner who -- when within hailing distance -- shouted out glad tidings of victory or news of relief forces, near to hand, bringing security and promising hope:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things.
Isaiah even went on to picture for us others on the walls running to whatever sector where the messenger was said to be visible, in order to glimpse him for themselves, before breaking out into loud shouts, raucous singing, and perhaps even claiming they could already hear his voice:
Hark!  Your sentinels raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion.
What news did the messenger bring?  Isaiah has him report the supreme message of good tidings and joy: "Your God reigns!"  Whereupon, having already seen and heard the excitement of those on the walls, the whole heaving population crowded inside the city walls bursts out, with one great sigh of relief and thunderous explosion of joy, into a paean of praise:
Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem!  For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.  The Lord has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations.
The ultimate reason for such exultation, was that a victory had been won or a danger averted: not an ordinary victory that might be reversed when armies went out to war again next season, but a victory of universal and eternal significance and validity, as Isaiah explains:
            The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations;
a victory of such magnitude that:
            All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
Now, why does Mother Church, in her great wisdom, put before us on Christmas Day’s high feast these words of Isaiah evoking past experiences of war?
Because she wants us to rejoice on this most wonderful day of Our Lord’s Incarnation with a joy so deep and heart-felt that it can only be evoked by the joy of those saved from death, of those from whose shoulders have been lifted heavy burdens of oppression and scorn, whose minds and hearts -- long terrorised by anxieties and fear -- have once again been able to experience some security and peace, and to entertain fresh hope.  All of which means that, to best appreciate our Christmas celebration and receive most fully the comforting of God through the ministrations of Mother Church, we must have a deep, indeed acute, awareness and appreciation of the unheard-of freedom and wondrous hope Mary’s new-born Child brings for mankind.  Our celebration today is, indeed, much, much, more than a cosy ritual with some traditional, sentimental, associations readily on tap.
For, all the torments of pain and suffering, of exploitation and oppression, being endured in the world today, all the greed, hypocrisy, and jealousy of society in general, and all the envy, selfishness and indifference of our individual lives, all, that is, that so ravages the peace and integrity of human experience, riddling it with countless regrets and endless anxieties, is the work and result of personal sin.  For sin is the most terrible enemy of mankind and indeed of the whole of creation, and only those who have come to recognize, and have the will to whole-heartedly reject, the evil that threatens them, can fittingly and fully embrace this Christmas feast, where the die is so beautifully and definitively cast against the power of sin.  For, in Bethlehem that night, sin was totally and absolutely excluded: for the shepherds were told of, and the angels acclaimed, a Child All-Holy, the very Son of God Himself, together with His spotless, maiden-mother; and we, like them, praise and glorify our divine Shepherd and holy Redeemer Who still comes ever-anew into our midst at this most holy season to receive the welcoming embrace of the Church, His Spouse and our Mother, whose true children no longer fear the devil’s former o’erwhelming power of sin and death, because they can now hope and aspire to mount with Christ His tree of life.
With such an understanding in our minds we can now allow the second reading to fill our hearts with the wonder of this occasion of which Isaiah the prophet spoke, and which Mother Church now invites us to share:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds; Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, uphold(s) all things by the word of His power.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Mother Church today announces this glorious news of salvation to us and invites, indeed urges and exhorts, all of us her children to respond with heart-felt joy and gratitude to her proclamation of the Gospel.  For she not only authoritatively proclaims God’s Good News, she infallibly shows forth the splendour of His Glory and the beauty of His Truth:
(God’s co-eternal) Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 
How blessed are we who are privileged to hear such tidings of salvation!  For, as John said:
            No one (absolutely no one) has (ever) seen God at any time.
It is true, John allows, that God’s Law had been given through Moses to prepare God’s people, but God Himself was only clearly revealed and truly known when:
The only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, declared Him; (for) grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
You also heard, in our second reading, the following words so rich in significance:
To which of the angels did He ever say: "You are My Son, today I have begotten You"? 
Now this is the second and confirming reason for our great rejoicing at Christmas;  for to each and every one of us gathered here as true children of Mother Church and bearing faithful witness to Christ, God the Father is saying:
If you will hear (My) voice aright:  today I have begotten you.   I will be a Father to (you) and (you) shall be a son to me (a child of mine).
And that is the comforting spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said:
Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem!  For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.
Words still most appropriate and true today!  For, all of us whom the Father is now comforting and calling, all He has chosen in His Son, cannot fail to recognize that we, like those shut up in some threatened and besieged city of old, are indeed today in “waste places”: this world, even our own society, is evil to an extent that can disgust us; nevertheless, because it is our society, our world, it also draws on our heart strings, thus threatening to besmirch us with something of its own filth.  And, being in this condition, since we might fear this renewed coming of the Holy One of God to do battle with the evil and filth around us and within us, He comes as a Child, for He is well aware of, and full of compassion for, our weakness.  Moreover, surrounding Himself at His Birth with shepherds from the midnight fields He assures us that He Himself comes as Shepherd into our darkness in order to search out those of His sheep who have strayed and, disregarding the mud that may cover their feet and flanks, the thorns that may entangle their wool, He wills to take them up in His arms and carry them back to the flock which He is leading to that heavenly fold where the Father already awaits them, Himself looking expectantly into the distance to see His own dear Son, Jesus our Lord, at the head of the flock He is leading with joy towards the eternal pastures of salvation.
Therefore, the joy Mother Church would inspire in us needs to be a joy arising from the depths of the human heart and truly expressing and promoting human fulfilment; and that is why she has chosen her words from the centuries’ long history of Israel’s journeying along the way traced out for her by God.  But since the peace and hope supported and proclaimed by such joy are more than earthly,  they must bear witness to a little babe indeed, but One Who is divine, God’s Only-begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Himself;   One, to be found wrapped in swaddling clothes, but also heralded by an Angel of the Lord, a visible display of divine glory, and the grateful song of a worshipping multitude of the heavenly host praising God for this Child Whose very Being, Person, and destiny proclaim: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will!