Homilies – December 2014
MIDNIGHT CHRISTMAS MASS
DECEMBER 25, 2014 (YEAR B)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
ISAIAH 9:1-7, TITUS 2:11-14, LUKE 2:1-14
You may have heard that in recent days I have joined some of my brother Bishops on a pastoral visit to the Middle East. We were there to offer solidarity and prayer and encouragement in faith to many oppressed Christian communities in Lebanon and in Northern Iraq.
When I was in Northern Iraq in the Archdiocese called Erbil I was listening carefully to the Archbishop of the area. He said that the many thousands of people who had been completely displaced from their homes are now in a refugee like status in another city. These people have come to him with their deep felt complaint and question – “Where is God in all this mess.” The Bishop answered: “He has not abandoned you. He is right there with you.”
The next morning when I started to visit some of the settlements I found Christmas cribs absolutely everywhere. They were attracting people in the settlement camps like metal to magnet. I found it very interesting to note that in so many of the Christmas cribs the Holy Family wasn’t in a manger but placed in a refugee tent. Most of these people lived in temporary accommodation in a tent. I thought of the Archbishop’s comments of the night before that, Jesus was right there with them. Indeed, Jesus was right there in their temporary homes, the tents, with His mother and father, Mary and Joseph.
Later on that afternoon I was talking to many of the young refugee families that were living in these tents. Quite unexpectedly a young couple came up to talk to me with their young son. We found it impossible to talk because I could not speak their language and they couldn’t speak mine. But we did speak the language of non-verbal communication and we also spoke the language of our shared Christian faith.
With our hands pointing and indicating to each other we were able to make some common understanding. The couple were very keen to hold the crucifix that was around my neck and to kiss it. I could tell by their resoluteness that they were people of deep faith. Really profound faith! Indeed, they were even joyful, and I could see in their eyes great hope was there in the midst of the hopelessness that surrounded them. I enjoyed being with them so much, for those few minutes. Later on I thought it was almost like I’d encountered a new type of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This filled me with a great inner joy. In the end, I was wondering whether I was visiting them or they were visiting me.
Given the fact that it was only a week before Christmas, I could see meeting this young couple, living in a tent, a real visitation of the Holy Family, in not only my life but the life of so many around them.
I think therefore that this Christmas night tells us again God’s answer to us in all our challenges and problems of our life. He says to us ”Be not afraid, I am with you! I am in you!” In our ancient Tradition, Jesus is often seen as dwelling in a tent. This seems to be His preferred accommodation! Tents are made for people on a journey. They are never made for people who just stand still in a static way and luxuriate in their comfort zone.
We see Jesus everywhere, but especially in the poor. I saw Him particularly radiant in this young couple with their baby boy.
I hope that each one of you see tonight in the simplicity of the Christmas crib the hopes and joys your heart yearns for and are fulfilled in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
All of us have challenges. But when we look to the deeper mysteries of love we see not just simply darkness but we see the light of the dawn of Jesus Christ that is always rising in our hearts. This fills us with joy and hope.
May this Christmas night and the days following fill each one of you, especially those who are very fragile at this time, with a peace beyond all imagination. It is Jesus the Christ living in us. He is our hope and our glory!
CHRISTMAS VIGIL MASS 2014 (YEAR B)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
It’s lovely to be with you all. Thank you for bringing your young children in such large numbers. I want you feel the welcome and the embrace of Jesus born afresh this night in the humble stable at Bethlehem.
A few days ago I returned from a trip to the Middle East where Jesus was born! I was with a group of six Bishops from Australia who were visiting Christian families that are undergoing unbelievable pressure from the violence and selfishness of others.
Whilst there I learnt a beautiful little story about the three wise men which I wanted to share with you this evening.
There’s a lovely Middle Eastern legend that says, in fact, there were four wise men and not three. The four of them set off to follow the star to Bethlehem, but one of them kept lagging behind. He was forever stopping to help people in need on the way. In the end the other three wise men left him to himself and they went off to follow the star to the manger in Bethlehem.
Meanwhile, the fourth magi kept on stopping day by day to help people on the road to Jerusalem. Indeed, it took him a whole thirty three years to get to Jerusalem! By the time he got to Jerusalem he had heard that Jesus of Nazareth, who he came to adore, was to be crucified that very day. He climbed a tree to see Jesus carrying his cross on the way to Calvary. The legend goes however, that he fell out of the tree and badly injured himself in the fall. Jesus passed by him and healed him immediately. The man looked up at Jesus carrying his cross and said “I have no gift to give you. Please forgive me.”
But Jesus said to him “You have been giving gifts to me ever since you left your homeland. When you help the poor you help me.”
This is a beautiful story we can all learn from.
Boys and girls, very often we think Christmas is about getting something. On one level I suppose it is. But the Scriptures tell us and our Tradition tells us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. I wonder what you can do for Mum and Dad in the next twenty four hours to help them in all their duties around the house, and to make Christmas Day very special for all your family?
All families present here tonight, please feel from me the love and the embrace of the Church throughout the world as we gather together in front of the crib and say to Jesus “We love you Lord Jesus, you have been sent to us by God our loving Father. Come into our lives and fill us with your Holy Spirit. Let this Christmas be a time of great change in us towards you, who are the Holy One.”
Happy Christmas to you all.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR B)
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2014
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, CANBERRA
2 SAMUEL 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; ROMANS 16:25-27; LUKE 1:26-38
Where is God to be found? This seems to be the primary question of the readings from this fourth Sunday of Advent.
In the first reading from the second book of Samuel, we hear of David’s conversation with God via the prophet Nathan. Nathan finds himself in luxurious accommodation and feels that the tent in which God dwells could be improved upon! David says to the Lord, “He will build God a suitable dwelling place.”
Via the prophet Nathan, God responds to David rather quickly. God says to Nathan “Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in?” Then God recounts how he has taken the initiative throughout His long relationship with His chosen people. It is not for David to be making initiatives. God is the one who takes the initiative. We call this Grace.
This is a loving rebuke from God to David. It’s interesting to note how many times the word “I” is used in reference to God’s plans for us.
Do we still do the same as David? Do we tell God how to be God? Do we tell God what to do in our lives? Do we see God as a passenger, but we are very much in the driver’s seat of our life? In this Advent season we need repentance to come back to God with all our hearts. God never stops reminding us that He is merciful and kind.
The ultimate answer to the question, where is God to be found is answered in the Gospel.
In the Gospel according to Luke God finds His dwelling place. This is not in some luxurious home or in a palace or a temple or some government building. Incredibly, it is in the womb of a virgin!
God doesn’t come to us in purely conceptual forms or in the bricks and mortar of life. He comes to us in a person of Jesus Christ, His Son. The virginity of Mary is so important to indicate that it is all God’s initiative and Grace. From the ‘yes’ of Mary comes the fruit of her womb, the Son of God, Jesus the Emmanuel.
In these days before Christmas, in all the challenges of our life, let us respond like Mary and say ‘yes’ to the initiative of God. Let us place our lives and our challenges of our lives in total trust and faith in God’s providential care.
I just returned this morning from a quick visit to the Middle East. I was with a delegation of Bishops from Australia where we visited the suffering and the oppressed Christians of the Middle East. We visited Beirut in Lebanon and Northern Iraq.
We met great courage and great heroism in the midst of tremendous suffering. It made me see, yet again, that Jesus is born afresh in the poor.
In the Middle East I discovered great poverty in regard to the survival things that we need – food, shelter, education, health. Here in Australia, there is also great poverty but far more so in questions of meaning. The things we in Australia are looking for are – meaning, hope and purpose in life, in the sea of plenty that surrounds us. So no matter whether it’s from Australia or the Middle East we look to Jesus, born afresh in Mary to be our hope. It is the Lord alone that will lead us from that poverty into the rich banquet of eternal life. Let us prepare ourselves for this rich banquet in the days ahead as we move directly towards Christmas Day.