Christmas Vigil Mass
25 December 2012
St. Macartan’s Cathedral 8.00 pm.
My dear friends,
“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.” These are the words of Scripture that introduce the readings for the Christmas masses of this year.
A young father loved going for country walks with his seven year old son. The boy was fascinated by the lives and behaviour of animals and birds. He frequently pressed his father to bring him back to these spots at night. Eventually, on a clear but dark night, the two of them made the trip. The child was soon totally immersed in the sights and sounds of the place. Was that an owl sweeping down through the trees? That must be a badger snuffing through the undergrowth. He was blissfully unaware of the sense of panic which was steadily taking over his father. For his father, the strange shapes of the trees, the unearthly noises and the uncertainty of the terrain were creating all sorts of worries. He was full of many dreadful imaginings as to what could happen, so as soon as he got the chance excuses were found to cut short the trip and return to the warm, well-lit safety of their home.
The first words of the angel to the shepherds were “Do not be afraid.” These were the same words used by the angel Gabriel when Mary was startled by his greeting. They are words used time and again by Jesus in his ministry, sometimes to reassure an individual and sometimes to support and even challenge his disciples. Fear is a strong and primitive element in the human condition. We can fear nature, we can fear dark, fear the sea and stormy weather, we can fear the evil which can lead our fellow human beings to harm and gravely hurt us. Fear is a constant feature of the gospel story and the story of personal faith.
The extraordinary response offered by the gospel to this fear, is to place a little child in our midst. The birth of this child and his presence among us is presented as a sign that our fears can be cast aside. With his birth the light pushes back the shadows of darkness and peace replaces injustice, violence and war. No one is excluded – “it has made salvation possible for the whole human race,” Paul assures Titus.
As adults, we can identify with the fears of the father of the seven year old. We can equally understand the reaction of Mary, the shepherds and indeed the disciples themselves, when they were faced with experiences they could not understand. The world we live in can be capricious and uncertain. When you add to that the unpredictability and frailty of the human condition, it is difficult for us to open ourselves any way fully to the world of the child with its trust, sense of wonder and imagination. The shadows of our world can be both menacing and near. The birth of Jesus was itself surrounded by such circumstances – no room at the inn, and surrounded by Herod’s hostile forces.
Into a world of conflict and disharmony, Jesus the son of God brought a message of peace and reconciliation. Into lives broken by selfishness and sin, he brought healing, acceptance and forgiveness. He offered a replacement for fear and distrust with a message of faith, hope and love. What the Jews had longed for, and what the Scriptures foretold had now become a reality. Nothing could be quite the same again. God had entered human history in a new and fuller way and a new era had begun.
So do we stay with our hurts and with our fears or can we balance them at least with the child’s world of wonder and fascination? Is Christmas a time for renewing the child in each one of us? Is it a time to put ourselves back in touch with the sources of wonder and imagination, and allow the story of the Christ child to become our story as well? Jesus told us he came so that we might have life and live it to the full. He came to tell us how we should live and the kind of people we should be.
Lord, may the light brought to our world by the birth of your son help us to remove the darkness in our minds and hearts; may it help us weaken the power of evil in our world. May the same light open sources of wisdom to our leaders in Church and State as they endeavour to help us live life to the full. We especially at this time ask the benefit of your light for our children so that we can teach them well, and be for them examples of right living. We believe in your continual presence to us and we believe in your capacity to renew the face of the earth and allow us to partake in the process. May your Word and your love ever guide us and lead us to where you intended us to be. May your Mother Mary help us on our way.
+ Liam S. MacDaid
25 December 2012