24/12/06 Christmas Homily

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Homily notes and Message of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin 24th December 2006
There is something extraordinary about this night.  It is something that we have experienced coming here.  We have left the warmth of our own homes and ventured out in the heart of the night and into the heart of our city, not for the bustle of entertainment, but to worship in this Cathedral Church.  We gather united with other Christians, of different denominations, who flock to Churches all over the country and all over the world, among them many who might otherwise only rarely visit a Church during the year. Christmas is indeed special for all.

Despite the great commercialisation and hectic activity of Christmas, there comes a moment on Christmas Eve when somehow or another the authenticity of the true message of Christmas breaks through into our lives and into our hearts.  We are moved by thoughts of kindness which can touch even the hardest hearts.  Even the most disillusioned can find in the Message of Christmas something which uplifts them and makes them think again in terms of hope.  Even the most embittered can bring some trace of a smile into their hearts.

Christmas is the night of the birth of Jesus.  It is the night in which we remember that God revealed himself in humility and in the helplessness of a child.  With this revelation our own understanding of God is overturned.  The God of power and might reveals himself in the helplessness of a babe.  What appears to us as human helplessness is the very sign that God wants to use to help us to understand his power and identity.

We realise that to be like God in this world means not to impose ourselves.  God is not a God of wealth or celebrity or power. If we are looking to understand the mystery of Christmas then we should not be wondering why there was no room in the inn.  We should attempt to understand how it was that Jesus could only reveal the nature of God through being born outside the framework of the human criteria of success and celebrity.  Jesus was born into human helplessness because only in this way could he reveal the power of God.  The first to greet and recognise Jesus were not the clean and the respectable, but the humble shepherds in their tattered working clothes.

Christmas challenges us to think outside the box of conventional concepts of prestige and power and esteem.  Christmas challenges us to think outside the box of conventional ideas about what life means.

But the Christmas message is not addressed to an unreal world.  Indeed the Gospel narratives about the birth of Jesus go out of their way to place his birth clearly within the reality of human history.   We are told exactly who the Emperor was and who was the Governor.  The Gospel speaks of towns that existed then and exist still now.  Jesus is born within into a real human lineage.  Jesus did not hover above the realities of human history; he became truly human.

The message of Jesus is not an abstract message about a distant God but one that challenges us to interpret and discern the values of the culture and the world we live in at any time in history.  It is a message that is addressed to us in our own concrete lives and in the environment in which we live.  It is a message which challenges us to reflect on the purpose and the meaning of human life and of human history.

The message of Jesus is a message that always challenges us.  Our contemporary society does not always want to be challenged.    If there is any word that is much used about Ireland today it is the word “success” and we should indeed thank God for the many successes we in Ireland have had as a society, as a culture, as an economy.

But in today’s Ireland there are also many signs of emptiness. Behind the outward face of self confidence in new Irish prosperity there are many signs of fragility, especially among the young; the outward clothes and culture of success all too often serve to hide signs of disillusionment and despair; there are signs of an insatiable greed which however fails to fill the hunger for self esteem and value; there is the violence of those who seek to profit from the suffering and addictions of others; there is the terrible violence we find on Dublin’s streets, a disregard for the value of life which haunts me and fills me with a sense of horror.  People know that Dublin deserves better and that Dublin is capable of doing better.

Christmas is the night of peace.  We include in our prayers this evening all those who do not enjoy the gift of peace.  We pray for those who are troubled and anxious in their own lives.  We pray for the victims of violence in all its forms: in war zones, within the wall of their own homes or in the midst of our streets.    We remember the children who have suffered violence and abuse.

We remember all those who work for peace.   We pray for peace in the land where Jesus was born.  Once again we move towards a New Year hoping for complete and lasting peace in our own country.  We thank God for the efforts of all those who have worked for peace and a stable political framework and we pray for enduring success to their efforts.

We pray for social peace within our society, peace between individuals and peoples—the ability to live together and to build relationships of justice and solidarity.  Social peace is that gift of being able to build peace within respect for the many differences which we find in Ireland today, always respectful of the innate dignity of each and every human being and always wishing that the other – no matter who he or she is – does well.   Social peace requires that crass inequalities be eliminated and that new forms of solidarity be constructed.

Social peace presupposes an ability to dialogue, to be firm in one’s principles without becoming intolerant or disrespectful of the other.  A culture which attempts to impose its views and interests through force or violence undermines the rule of law and is a threat to democracy.

Peace is God’s work.  God created a world that was orderly and harmonious.  In Jesus Christ God also redeemed our humanity from the disorder of sin.

Jesus came into the world to make the love of God visible in our lives.  That is the sense of the message of Christmas.  Christianity is not primarily about rules and norms.  It is about a person Jesus Christ who has entered into human history and has changed it by showing us the power of his message of love.

When we let the message of Jesus enter into our lives we receive alongside peace also that other great gift of the Christmas season, that special gift which is mentioned in every element of the Christmas story: the gift of joy.

Christianity is a religion of joy. It is not a rule book or a demanding ethical code which drains us of our energies and vitality.   Christianity is a religion of joy and rarely do we understand that as much as we do at Christmas.  The Angels announce a message of joy for all the people.  When Jesus not yet born enters into the house of Elizabeth the child she is bearing leaps for joy.

Christmas brings us closer than normal to the mystery of that sober Christian joy which can transform the weaknesses, insecurities and anxieties that bear down on the lives of many, the uncertainty, anxiety and insecurity which are the other side of the coin of Ireland’s success story.   Christmas reminds us that joy comes from giving and sharing and sustaining more than from having, and holding on to, and just minding our own business and filling our own stomachs.

In the helplessness of the new born child, Jesus opens the door to the richness of our sharing in the life of God himself.  Jesus takes on our human nature and brings it ever new dignity.  We rejoice that our lives have been enriched and changed and we commit ourselves as Christians to share that light and joy with others.