Archbishop Prowse’s Christmas Homily
Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn
Christmas Day – 25 December 2017
St Christopher’s Cathedral Canberra
Isaiah 9: 1-7
St Paul to Titus 2:11-14
Gospel 2: 1-14
The description of Christmas in St Luke’s Gospel goes into great historical detail.
The great political powers of the time are mentioned. There is Caesar Augustus who wishes the decree for a census to be taken. There is Quirinius, the governor of Syria who is mentioned as the current leader of the regional area at the time.
In the midst of all these great names comes two unknowns – Mary and Joseph.
Not only that, they do not come in the Mercedes Benz or the Rolls Royce or the glided chariot of the time, they presumably come both on foot and on a donkey.
They do not stay in great glided palaces or six star accommodation. Indeed, the sad line of the Gospels is mentioned there “There is no room in the inn.” It’s almost as if the birth of happens in a situation of homelessness.
Then we have a scene that we can easily sentimentalise. But the reality must have been harsh indeed. Jesus, the Son of God is born simply in a stable on the fringes of Jerusalem in a little suburb called Bethlehem. The word “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” Jesus is laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. Even in the first moments of his life there is a Eucharistic feel about the specific descriptions of his birth.
Yet in all humility and simplicity there is a great beauty about the scene.
The first ones to come to acknowledge that something awe-some has happened are simple shepherds. This is probably the lowest of all occupations. Not only that, animals are mentioned. Not only that, later on, a star is mentioned and people coming from afar. There is a universal and even cosmic dimension about his humble entry into the world of Jesus the Son of God.
The Scriptures also refer to Jesus as ‘Immanuel.’ It is a beautiful word meaning ‘God is with us’.
Already the child is wrapped in swaddling clothes which, in a sense, is an indirect reference to his ultimate destiny of death on the Cross of Calvary. At the end of the Gospels Jesus is also wrapped in burial clothes that bind up his wounds of crucifixion. The shadow of persecution, marginalisation and misunderstanding is not far from the poetic dimension of the first nativity scene.
There is one detail that’s often overlooked as well. It is that all this took place in the dead of the night.
From the first reading today we read the great prophecy of Isaiah. There is the prophecy that “The people that walk in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.”
The Gospels make it clear that Jesus was born in darkness. Yet, Jesus is the light of the world. This is a beautiful contrast!
These little reflections need to be brought to mind in our present Australian times.
The subtlety of the Nativity can overlook its most profound meaning.
In our busyness and in our very materialistic culture, we can forget quite easily ‘The reason for the season’.
Even in Australia today, the expression “The festive season” can often be used to avoid the obvious statement that we are gathering to celebrate the birth of the Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is the cause for our Joy and of our Rejoicing. For those who have a secularist mind set or who go in a drifting mode towards Christmas, this can be overlooked entirely. If this is the case, then what is the cause for Rejoicing?
The fact that Jesus was born in the dead of night is also helpful to us in our difficulties in Australia.
It has been a very difficult year for Christianity in Australia in 2017. The forces upon us to separate faith from culture have become even more immense. Christianity has been seen, along with other religions represented in Australia, as the glue bringing all the diversity of Australia together in our wonderful multicultural nation. However, in more recent times religions seem to be seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution of the issues in Australia.
There seems to be an increasing pagan view in Australia on anything of the transcendent. There’s immense pressure on us to keep such matters very private to us for our own personal thoughts only.
Yet the birth of the Saviour at midnight to bring across the dawn that will never set, is something that Christians cannot keep to themselves! It’s something that has to be shouted from the housetops.
Strangely, Australians in general love to sing Christmas carols, but do we really appreciate the lyrics of these wonderful carols. They all shout out that on this ‘Silent night, Holy night’, the Saviour has been born, Christ the King!
Our only response can be summarised in the beautiful word ‘Glory’.
Midnight might be the dead of night but is also the beginning of the dawn.
That Christ came in our midnight of depression, sadness and difficulties must give us all great Joy and Hope.
We cannot live our lives with our own resources.
Jesus who has given us life, comes to us with the grace of God and in the community of the Holy Spirit to draw us back to our true identity as human beings.
The dignity of the human person is to live in the glory of God and to sing his praises from the housetops!
Let us do that in our joys and sorrows at this Christmas time, knowing that Christ is ‘with us’ until the end of time.