Christmas Homily 2020

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Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin  Archbishop of Dublin

Pro-Cathedral, 24 December 2020



          “Welcome to our Christmas celebration in Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral.  Welcome to those of you present with us and welcome to those who join us online.

It is a Christmas unlike what we are accustomed to from other years.  Indeed,  the question arises in many hearts: can we really celebrate Christmas 2020 as a celebration of joy, when we know that there are so many people grieving and mourning and distressed and insecure.

The answer is yes, but only if we come to grasp in depth what the mystery of Jesus Birth really means.  Let us listen attentively then to how the Word of God explores that mystery and let us celebrate the Eucharist as the celebration of joy as Jesus comes to redeem us.



“You have made their gladness greater,

You have made their joy increase”

            These are words from our first reading. The dominant theme of the reading is that of joy and that of darkness being turned into light. We heard:  “On those who live in a land of deep shadow, a light has shone”.

We celebrate Christmas in a climate in which the dark shadow of a pandemic hangs ominously over us and yet we are called to a celebration dominated by the theme of joy.

As I asked in my words of greeting: can we really celebrate Christmas 2020 as a celebration of joy, when we know that there are so many people grieving and mourning and distressed and insecure. Yet we also know that we are all longing for a moment of joy to help us cope with the despondency of pandemic. What do we do?

It cannot mean that we seek a much-needed moment of respite from anxiety through creating just an empty and short-lived flash of joy.   The Christmas call to joy must be more than respite for just a day or two.

We can only find a lasting source of Christmas joy when we fully grasp the mystery of the birth of Jesus.  The mystery of the birth of Jesus challenges us to turn many of what he hold as values head of over heels.  We will discover the source of Christmas joy when we open ourselves to the revolutionary power of Jesus as revealed in his birth.

The Word of the Scriptures tells us that the one who appears as a helpless child is “the mighty God”. How can a child unprotected and exposed to the elements be the one, as our reading claims, “who will make secure justice and integrity”.

God reveals himself as a helpless child.  The mystery of the birth of Jesus challenges all of us to seek a different understanding of power. The one who is called king is born in utter precariousness and poverty.  He is a king who is born into a world radically foreign to the palaces of royalty, or the palaces of the wealthy and influential, refused access even to the cheapest accommodation available for those moving toward a world census.

Jesus is born not in the glory of a Basilica complete with splendid music and art treasures. Jesus is born in the most utter precariousness.  This leads us to the question: where do we look for Jesus today?

Believers are saddened at restrictions on access to public worship in our Churches. A first lesson we learn reflecting on the mystery of Jesus’ birth is that is that today and in the coming days we have to realise that we may find Jesus in unexpected places. I am not saying that restrictions in public worship are inappropriate.  They can be justified for a limited time and in a proportionate manner to respond to a human emergency.

What I am saying is that in today’s crisis we can find Jesus in unfamiliar ways; indeed we must look to find Jesus in different ways and guises.  The Jesus who is born in a stable is the one who will establish justice and integrity.  Today we can find Jesus first of all then through ourselves living a life of justice and integrity.   We do not meet Jesus in a socially comfortable Church if we do not live in justice and integrity.  The pandemic is a call to find in life, values that our consumer society can easily let fall into the background of our mentality.  The absence of being able to attend public worship should help us to seek a more integral understanding of what worship means.

We are called to celebrate Christmas joy in a climate of insecurity.   The angels announce the birth of Jesus as an announcement of “great joy”, but a joy that “is to be shared by the whole people”. Joy is not something that we attain just for ourselves in a self-centred or narcissistic way. We experience enduring Christmas joy when we selflessly share joy. Just as we encounter Jesus in unexpected situations, our joy will be genuine today when it reaches out and touches others.  We remember those who suffer most during this pandemic, not to make the situation more melancholic, but rather to find ways of bringing even a glimmer of joy and hope into the most troubled hearts.

God revealed himself not in the signs of earthly power and influence.    We meet Jesus today in all those who live in precariousness. Jesus is born poor not because of the negativity of the room keepers. Jesus is born poor by divine choice.  Jesus is born poor to tell us who God is.

Many of those here this evening or a watching us online may well have experienced one of the harshest years of their lives.  The Christian community celebrates joy not about itself, but to embrace those who suffer with the warm embrace of the God who cares.  Over this year, we have seen the innate goodness of people who rose to a situation that none of us could have expected.

We go forward into uncharted waters inspired by a Christmas joy that enhances our care and concern.  May we experience Christmas joy in spreading the joy of caring day after day.  Our lives must become the instruments through which the every shadow of darkness will be illumined by the light of Christ.

May we all experience a blessed Christmas by making Christmas blessed for others. ENDS