“Today a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.”
In the name of the monastic community I welcome you all to this Midnight Mass of Christmas. I know that many churches have now given up this traditional practice and gone for the soft option of an evening Mass. I don’t blame them but it seems to me that it is important still to keep vigil through the night together with those shepherds watching their flocks who were the first to hear the good news of the Saviour’s birth. “Today a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.”
Today I welcome our regular worshippers and give a warm welcome to our visitors. I know that many people only come to Mass at Christmas, so a very, very special welcome to you. Remember, this church is your home, you belong here and there will always be a welcome no matter how long it’s been since you last set foot in a church, no matter what it is that prevents you from practising your faith. God loves you, he always will and Christ was born today for you.
It’s interesting how in the History of Salvation all the important things happen at night, in darkness. Go back to Creation: there was nothing but darkness and void until God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. It was in the middle of the night that, under the leadership of Moses, God led the People of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land and it was at night that he gave them the Law on Sinai. We often walk in darkness and don’t know where we’re going or even why. Life is a dark mystery without the light of faith. Yet the prophet Isaiah wrote long ago, “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.” We are that people. Each one of us walks in darkness when we walk without the light of Christ.
It was in the middle of the night that Christ was born. Mary “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.” Not only the darkness of night when Jesus was born but the darkness of rejection and exclusion. How many of us feel like that! And yet it is when the night is darkest that the angel of the Lord appears and the glory of the Lord shines brightest. Like the shepherds we are often more frightened of the light than of the darkness. “Do not be afraid. I bring you news of great joy, news to be shared by all the people. Today a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds run to the manger and, seeing the baby, are filled with joy. Darkness evaporates and they return home rejoicing. The same happens with the Three Kings or Wise men. In their darkness they are guided by a star that leads them to Bethlehem, where they bow down before the Christ Child and worship him, offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Like the Magi we often journey through life in darkness with just a star to guide us, though at times the cloud is thick and we see nothing. All we can do then is hang on for dear life and persevere in hope.
The Gospels tell us that darkness had covered the earth when Christ died crucified on Calvary and it was at night, at that darkest hour just before dawn, when on Easter Sunday he rose from the dead. The darkness of death and the prison of the tomb could not hold him back. “Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings,” we sing tonight, already thinking ahead to Easter, because Christmas and the Epiphany are in fact Paschal feasts. We know that the Child lying in the manger is the Crucified Christ, our Risen Lord. The night of death most surely awaits each one of us and we mourn the death, untimely and undeserved, of our loved ones, but in Christ and in the power of his Resurrection we know that death opens out into glory and that darkness gives way to light.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, may the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts with joy and may he, the Saviour born for us today, bless you and your loved ones this Christmas and always. Amen.
Homily given by Right Reverend Paul Stonham, Abbot of Belmont.