Christmas Homily 2019

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Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Pro-Cathedral, 24th December 2019


“There is something special about this night.  There is something special about Christmas and the Christmas message.  Coming here this evening, our streets are already different.  Familiar Carols have added warmth to our thoughts.  A unique peace and serenity have brought to an end all the hectic of preparations.  After weeks of the commercialization of Christmas, there is something about this evening that changes our hearts and allows us to be touched by the simplicity of the Christmas message.

Gazing on the Christ child, we are struck by the simplicity of childhood.  At Christmas people travel great distances to be with their loved ones.  The estranged become reconciled.  Christmas is a moment when we are moved more intensely as we think of those who cannot celebrate Christmas, those who are alone, those who are homeless, those on the margins of society. It is also fascinating to see how on our streets at Christmastime, commercialisation is matched also by a generosity in giving for the marginalised.  Christmas brings out the best from our hearts.

Christmas is a moment when our faith emerges, even if we have drifted away from regular practice of that faith.  At Christmas the faith of our childhood becomes re-energized and evokes something that always remains buried deep in our hearts.

I greet each and everyone here this evening and wish you every blessing as together we celebrate this great feast of the Lord and of our humanity.

Yes, in our society no matter how commercialised it is, Christmas touches something deeper within us.  Why is that?  What makes Christmas special?  Christmas is special because Christmas is about God.  The child that is born is Our Lord and Saviour.

Every year there are those who appeal to us to put God back into Christmas.  The mystery is that God is never far from our celebration of Christmas, even if in a veiled way.  God is present in the mystery we celebrate, even in a world and in a culture where God is too often left on the margins of our lives and of our society.

I was very struck by some words of Pope Francis in his Christmas greeting to his co-workers in the Vatican.   They may surprise some.  They are words however that could certainly be applied to Ireland.  “Brothers and sisters”, he said, “Today we [Christians] are no longer the only ones who create culture, nor are we in the forefront or those most listened to”. These are very strong words, words that might seem pessimistic rather than the words full of hope that we would expect to hear at Christmas.

How can we speak of God in a world that so often rejects him or does not know where to turn to find him?   As Christians and as a Church we must speak more about God.   It is not enough to say that we are somehow blocked from speaking.  It is that too often we speak about God in the wrong language, in a language that is not God’s.  To speak effectively about God we have to learn to speak about God in the language of God himself.

Where do we find the language of God?  We find it in the message of Christmas.   God speaks to us, he tells us who he is, in the way Jesus is born and he speaks to us in a language that is unexpected.  The God of power and might appears in the presence of a helpless child, a helpless child without any of the supports of the power and wealth and celebrity that we might have thought the place where God would appear, or the type of place we at times make our Church be.

We think in that way because we think in categories that are not those of God.  The language of God is the language of simplicity of heart.  It is not a language that you can learn from books or tapes.  The language of God is not the language of discussing the poor and discussing those on the periphery of society.  The language of God is about being poor and being detached from a longing for power or possession. It is the language of being with and doing things with the poor and marginalised.  The language of God is not ecclesiastical gossip.  We can only grasp who our God is and what the Church should be like when we look through the prism of the language of God.

God reveals himself to us in the simplicity and helplessness of the child Jesus.  The language of God is not the language of self-sufficiency and self- centeredness but the language of our dependence on God. John the Baptist, who we encountered in the Advent liturgy, was a man who shunned the external amenities of a comfortable life.  He did this not as some kind of public relations stunt or the creation of a particular image but because he wanted to show his absolute dependence on God.

This absolute dependence on God is not a humiliation or a degrading of human dignity; it is a lifeline to help us realise what is most central to being human: being open and allowing something stronger than individualism to overwhelm us and make us be different and caring.

In one of the readings of tomorrow’s Mass, we are reminded that God has spoken to us in many ways throughout history.  God’s first communication with us is through his creation and its beauty and integrity.  God made everything and saw in each individual element of his creation a unique goodness.  Care for creation and respect for its integrity also form part of the language of God.

God created humankind as a family, each individual uniquely called and loved by God.  Respect for each person, at any stage in the life, is again part of the language of God.  Racism and discrimination are words that have no space in the language of God.  Racism is always the language of hate and detestation. There is no such thing as mild racism. Racism is a dangerous explosive you do not play around with.

To understand Christmas we must learn the language of God.  To be true Christians we must not only know and understand the language of God, we must be its teachers in the way we live and in the society we create.

You heard me say earlier that Christmas is a moment when our faith emerges. Let us not suppress that urge; let us not re-transmit the urge of faith and goodness back into our spiritual subconscious until next Christmas.

Mary and Joseph belonged to those who over the centuries of anticipation kept aflame their trust and confidence in the Lord even if they did not fully understand it.  May they help us to ponder where we speak and where we contradict in our lives and language the language of God revealed in the newborn child, Jesus Christ. ENDS