Homily of Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran for Christmas Eve 2019 Midnight Mass: ‘From This Time Onwards and Forever’
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo
“One of the features of the past year is that many people – and young people especially – have begun to express real concern about the things that are disappearing and that cannot be replaced” – Bishop Doran
Every year since I was a child, I have heard these same readings from Scripture on Christmas Eve. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; she gave birth to her son, her first born and laid him in a manger; in the countryside there were shepherds, watching over their sheep and suddenly, with the angel, there was a heavenly host, praising God and singing.
Of course, as the years have gone by, I have grown older and I have moved around and I have heard these readings against the background of whatever else was going on in my life. But, when it comes to preparing for midnight Mass, I must confess that I sometimes find myself asking: “what can I say about all of this that will be new and fresh? How can it be ‘tidings of great joy’ if it is the same every year?” That is what set me thinking for this year.
I have the unfortunate habit of setting the alarm on my phone so that I usually wake up in time for Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1. That means that I start my day expecting something new to have happened overnight. It would seem very strange if the programme presenters came on air one day to say: “Good morning. This is the news. Nothing of any significance has happened since yesterday”. Maybe that’s why we call it the ‘NEWS’. What remains constant is not regarded as news.
In our modern world things are changing more rapidly than they ever did before. New technology changes the way we work, the way we learn, the way we relax and even the way we die. Some of us find all that change very exciting, while others are troubled by it. Christmas has become, in a certain sense, the shop-window for everything that is new: new technology, new clothes, new books. The travel companies are beginning to roll out their new destinations for 2020. Yet – in the middle of all of that – there is a growing awareness that nothing seems to be permanent anymore; everything is disposable and we expect to replace it with something better. One of the features of the past year is that many people – and young people especially – have begun to express real concern about the things that are disappearing and that cannot be replaced; the polar ice, the oxygen levels in the atmosphere, the bees that are so essential to the fertility of plants.
At Christmas time, alongside our hankering after what is shiny and new, most of us value the traditions that have been handed down from one generation to the next. Some of these traditions are unique to our own family; some of them are rooted in our community. I am thinking of things like singing Silent Night, like sitting together for a meal without the pressure of having to go somewhere; or going to Messiah or to the races; celebrating midnight Mass and bringing the children to the crib. All of these traditions speak of a desire that is in the heart of each one of us for something permanent; for a love that lasts; for a light that the darkness cannot overcome; for a life after which there will be no death.
The possibility of change was one of the big questions for the early Greek philosophers. Some of them thought that everything was in a permanent state of flux. Others thought that change was only an illusion. Building on the work of those who went before him, Aristotle explained that change is only possible because there is something beneath the surface that remains unchanged.
This brings us back to what we celebrate at Christmas. The heart of Christmas, as Isaiah prophesies is that: ‘A child is born for us; a son is given to us’. Luke tells us that, ‘in the town of David a saviour has been born…… [who is] Christ the Lord’. In the words of Saint Paul: “God’s grace has been revealed and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race”. What makes this NEWS, oddly enough, is not that it is somehow upgraded from last year. It is GOOD NEWS because there is something (or someone) who, in the midst of all the turmoil of life, remains the same. Isaiah speaks of the ‘jealous love of the Lord of Hosts’. In this case, I think the word “jealous” can be understood to mean “strong” or “faithful”. You may remember the words at the beginning of the Easter Vigil as the candle is blessed: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him, and all ages; to him be glory and power, through every age and for ever. Amen”.
So, you might ask, is there nothing new for us this year? Yes, of course there is. What makes the message of Christmas new, each year, is how it touches me, here and now, at this particular moment in time and at this particular point in my own life.
– how it inspires me to break the rod of the oppressor and to put aside the cloak rolled in blood (whatever that might mean in the circumstances of my life and my community):
– how it inspires me to welcome, to protect and to celebrate the gift of life
– how it inspires me to see the mystery of God’s love for the poor and those who are on the margins, and
– how it inspires me, like the choirs of angels, to praise God
My prayer for each of you this Christmas is that, in the midst of all the glitter, you will see the light that shines in the person of Jesus Christ, and that this light will lead you in the path of peace and truth and love throughout the coming year. Amen.
(Source: Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference)