The yearly celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ at Christmas is a reminder that all creation – including our own lives – have purpose, meaning and direction, said Archbishop Leo Cushley in his Christmas homily 2018.
“Tonight, God intervenes definitively in history by the birth of his Son, his Word made Flesh - and the world will never be the same again,” said the Archbishop to the Midnight Mass congregation at St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral in Edinburgh, 24 December.
“From now on, each celebration remembering this day will be a day that lifts us closer to God and closer to our own renewal, completion, and salvation in Jesus Christ.” Archbishop Cushley’s homily is reproduced in full below:
Homily of Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh
Christmas Midnight Mass, 2018
St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Allow me to start first of all by wishing you all a very peaceful and happy Christmas for you and yours. A special thank you goes to Mgr Burke, my Vicar General, and to all of his co-workers in our cathedral, clergy and people alike, who help to make tonight a fitting celebration of the great events we recall solemnly tonight. Many thanks indeed!
An old professor of mine once pointed out to us how the years and seasons come and go and so, to the untrained human eye, “what goes around comes around”; this means that, after a while, each year can seem a bit “samey” – a bit, even a lot, like the one that came before it. The seasons come and go, our wonderful long summer evenings come and go, the short, dark days of winter come and go. Even our Christian feasts which mark this part of the year come and go…
But my old professor said that we also need to resist the temptation to see every year as just the same old thing, again and again and again, as if we were caught in a never-ending cycle, like a trap. Of course, we all know we’re getting older and things change, but there remains the suspicion in the back of our minds that we’re just doing the same thing again and again, that we’re going through the motions, that we’ve been here before - and so a kind of weariness or ennui can creep in to our world view. But we need to fight that.
To do so, we must see times like tonight and the return of our great Christian festivals as building positively upon the ones that went before: instead of going round and round in a closed annual circle, we should see last year and this year and next year and the next celebration of Christmas as part of a circle, yes, but one that in turn is part of a spiral: it starts with the great event itself – the reality of the birth of our Lord in Bethlehem – and through our annual commemorations of it, we head gradually, but inexorably, towards that great moment, our own encounter with Christ, our own redemption, and ultimately the renewal of the whole of creation. Our celebration therefore tonight stands in relation to both the reality of Christ’s birth, and the future promise of his return in glory to renew and restore all things in Himself.
As we all know, in our Western culture, the years are still numbered from the birth of Christ, and this year, 2018, we are now well on our way into the third Christian millennium. We are a year further away from the reality of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, but we are also a year closer to our own encounter with Christ, and to the appearing of the Lord in glory.
Tonight, therefore, we recall with renewed joy how God revealed Himself to us in our own humanity, in our own flesh, and how the almighty Creator of the universe chose to become one like us; and he did so in the form of a child born in simplicity, humility and obedience to the will of the Father. God unveiled His face to us, and it was the face of an infant at the mercy of a hostile and brutish world.
Here is an event whose impact changes the direction of all history, that breaks through the never-ending, closed cycle of times and seasons. Tonight, God intervenes definitively in history by the birth of his Son, his Word made Flesh - and the world will never be the same again. From now on, each celebration remembering this day will be a day that lifts us closer to God and closer to our own renewal, completion, and salvation in Jesus Christ. That helpless child in the manger does what none of us can do: He saves us from our weakness, from our sins, from ourselves. He shows us the powerful hand of God, but He also shows us God’s mercy. He saves us because He is truly one of us; but He is able to save us, only because He is truly God’s Son. Jesus is true God and true man, and not for nothing therefore do we choose to genuflect during the recitation of the Creed tonight. Here is the moment when God is united to man forever in the person of Jesus Christ. Divinity and humanity meet in Him, and our bridge back to God is fixed, is reestablished once and for all. Christ is the true pontiff, the true bridge between God and man. The simplicity of Christ’s birth only goes to underline how completely he becomes one of us; and the message tonight of the angels underlines that it is God Himself who has visited His people, to dwell among us from now on.
Our task then, is to recognise Him; to welcome Him; and to adore Him as truly God-with-Us. We recognise Him with our faith; we welcome Him with our love; and we adore Him with the deepest gratitude and humility.
As for gifts, we can only give Christ our flesh; but in return He gives us the gift of His divinity. With such an immense gift bestowed on us tonight, it only remains for us to share that gift joyfully with all those around us, in imitation of the angels and the shepherds that first Christmas night. Share this great news, then – a joy for all the people - with your friends and your family; be ambassadors of Christ - God’s greatest gift to us - and make yourselves a gift to others, as Christ becomes a reality in your own hearts.
May you have a Christmas filled with peace and joy, and a Good New Year when it comes. God bless you all!