Christmas Eve 2011
“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. AmenHANDEL'S HALLELUIA CHORUS
These photos were taken at the Christmas Day Mass at 11.00am. We have a really beautiful liturgy which is novus ordo, "facing the people", but fully within the Tradition of the Church: it can be done!!
Christmas Day 2011
“All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.” Wonderful words taken from St John’s Prologue, this morning’s Gospel.
On behalf of the monastic community I welcome you all to this Mass of Christmas Day. A particular welcome to our guests and visitors and a very special welcome to those who only come to Mass once a year or who might have come today out of curiosity or in compliance with the wishes of a relative or friend. Perhaps not all of us really want to be here and would rather be somewhere else. And there must be some of you who are thinking more about getting your Christmas dinner ready than plumbing the depths of St John’s Gospel. For whatever reason we happen to be here this morning and no matter what else is going on in our minds, Christ was born for us today. We have life in him. He alone is the light that shines in the dark, a light than not even our own darkness can put out.
You either love Christmas or you hate it, and there are some of us who both love and hate it at the same time. I must confess that I love everything about Christmas, even all the stuff that’s really got nothing to do with religion or faith. I love it all and always have. But at the heart of Christmas there has to be Christ, the Word made flesh, he who lives among us, he whose glory we behold even today. In the darkness of our world, and this past year we really have come to see how dark it can be and how much suffering and hardship there is, even in the Church, Christ alone shines out as a light in the darkness, a light that darkness cannot overpower.
At the Midnight Mass we heard in St Luke’s Gospel of the birth of Jesus, the quintessential Christmas story of shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks by night and of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest.” We heard of the babe in the manger, of Mary and Joseph, the ox and the ass, and all the other bits we associate with Christmas. And, of course, we sang lots of carols, most of them going way beyond what we read about in the Bible, but all of them trying to figure out what Christmas means for us.
This morning we have the profound reflexion of St John’s magnificent Prologue, as the Lord invites us to stand back for a moment and take stock of what Christmas really means for us and for the whole of creation, what it’s all about. I know it’s too much to take in when you’re worrying about your Brussels sprouts, but, don’t worry, almost nobody knows how to get them right!
“The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” In Jesus Christ we see God and know him; in Jesus Christ God sees us and knows us. From the moment of the Incarnation, when God took human flesh of the Virgin Mary and became a man like us in all things but sin, he chose to see us in Christ and to love us in his Only-Begotten Son, the Beloved. We often worry, “How can God possibly love me?” We consider ourselves to be wretched sinners, hopeless cases, good-for-nothing. Alternatively, pride takes over and we become defensive, arrogant and self-righteous. Now Christ came to set us free from all that and to show us how much God loves us and longs for our happiness and salvation. That is the peace Christ came to share with us, the saving knowledge that God loves us and wants only what is best for us, ultimately, what will make us happy for all eternity.
We can see God’s glory reflected not only in the face of Christ, but, if we just open the eyes of faith, we can see his glory in the face of those with whom we live, in the face of those we love, even in the face of those we hate. For you see, “from his fullness we have all received grace in return for grace.” Salvation has got nothing to do with what we think we can do or should do for God, but rather it is God’s gift to us, his gift to us in Christ. It is what we allow God to do for us in Christ, “the light that shines in the dark, the light that darkness cannot overpower.”
A very Happy Christmas to you all and may Christ, the Word made flesh, he who is our light and our life, bless you and your loved ones this Christmas and for ever. Amen
The above pictures are from 2nd Vespers of Christmas, 2011. The "hoods" of the cantors' copes are very ancient and are supposed to have belonged to the royal chapel of Queen Catherine of Aragon, but we have no proof of this..