Daily Archives: December 25, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI's Midnight Mass Homily 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:6f.). These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: “you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:31). This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours – the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things. We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes” allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn. In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others – for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke’s brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1:11). This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.

These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?

Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel. Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: “To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or “wise men” – the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.

In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down – in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David’s throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land. Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel. David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel. In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way – in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne – the Cross – corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ’s love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness – this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace – and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves” – those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.

Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: “He pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1:14). Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin. What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation? Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: “Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created” (PL 158, 955f.). Thus, according to Gregory’s vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God. According to the Fathers, part of the angels’ Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song – still according to the Fathers – possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.

In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there. At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in Heaven”, he asks: what is this – Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: “… who art in Heaven – that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location. Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: ‘The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains’, but rather: ‘the Lord is close to the brokenhearted’ (Ps 34:18[33:19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called ‘Earth’, so by contrast the just man can be called ‘Heaven'” (Sermo in monte II 5, 17). Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God’s humility, God’s heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Sermon 2007

Eleven days ago, the Church celebrated the memory of the sixteenth century Spanish saint, John of the Cross, Juan de Yepes – probably the greatest Christian mystical writer of the last thousand years.

A man who worked not only for the reform and simplification of the monastic life of his time, but also for the purification of the inner life of Christians from fantasy, self-indulgence and easy answers.

Those who’ve heard of him will most likely associate him with the phrase that he introduced into Christian thinking about the hard times in discipleship – ‘the dark night of the soul’.

He is a ruthless analyst of the ways in which we prevent ourselves from opening up to the true joy that God wants to give us, by settling for something less than the real thing, and confusing the truth and grace of God with whatever makes us feel good or comfortable.

He is a disturbing and difficult writer; not, you’d imagine, a man to go to for Christmas good cheer.

But it was St John who left us, in some of his poems, one of the most breathtakingly imaginative visions ever of the nature of Christmas joy, and who, in doing this, put his own analyses of the struggles and doubts of the life of prayer and witness firmly into an eternal context.

He is recognised as one of the greatest poets in the Spanish language; and part of his genius is to use the rhythms and conventions of popular romantic poetry and folksong to convey the biblical story of the love affair between God and creation.

One of his sequences of poetry is usually called simply the Romances.

It’s a series of 75 short, mostly four-line, verses, written in the simplest possible style and telling the story of the world from the beginning to the first Christmas – but very daringly telling this story from God’s point of view.

It begins like a romantic ballad.

‘Once upon a time’, God was living eternally in heaven, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, with perfect love flowing uninterrupted between them.

And out of the sheer overflowing energy of his love, God the Father decides that he will create a ‘Bride’ for his Son.

The imagery is powerful and direct: there will be someone created who will be able, says God the Father, to ‘sit down and eat bread with us at one table, the same bread that I eat.

And so the world is made as a home for the Bride.

Who is this Bride? It is the whole world of beings who are capable of love and understanding, the angels and the human race.

In the rich diversity of the world, the heavens and the earth together, God makes an environment in which love and intelligence may grow, until they are capable of receiving the full impact of God’s presence.

And so the world waits for the moment when God can at last descend and – in a beautiful turning upside-down of the earlier image – can sit at the same table and share the same bread as created beings.

As the ages pass on Earth, the longing grows and intensifies for this moment to arrive; and at last God the Father tells the Son that it is time for him to meet his Bride face to face on earth, so that, as he looks at her directly, she may reflect his own likeness.

When God has become human, then humanity will recognise in his face, in Jesus’s face, its own true nature and destiny.

And the angels sing at the wedding in Bethlehem, the marriage of heaven and earth, where, in the haunting final stanza of the great poetic sequence, humanity senses the joy of God himself, and the only one in the scene who is weeping is the child, the child who is God in the flesh:

‘The tears of man in God, the gladness in man, the sorrow and the joy that used to be such strangers to each other.’

Well, that is how John of the Cross sets out the story of creation and redemption, the story told from God’s point of view.

And there are two things in this that are worth our thoughts and our prayers today.

The first is one of the strangest features of John’s poems.

The coming of Christ is not first and foremost a response to human crisis; there is remarkably little about sin in these verses.

We know from elsewhere that John believed what all Christians believe about sin and forgiveness; and even in these poems there is reference to God’s will to save us from destruction.

But the vision takes us further back into God’s purpose.

The whole point of creation is that there should be persons, made up of spirit and body, in God’s image and likeness, to use the language of Genesis and of the New Testament, who are capable of intimacy with God – not so that God can gain something but so that these created beings may live in joy.

And God’s way of making sure that this joy is fully available is to join humanity on earth so that human beings may recognise what they are and what they are for.

The sinfulness, the appalling tragedy of human history has set us at what from our point of view seems an unimaginable distance from God; yet God, we might say, takes it in his stride.

It means that when he appears on earth he takes to himself all the terrible consequences of where we have gone wrong – ‘the tears of man in God’ – yet it is only a shadow on the great picture, which is unchanged.

We are right to think about the seriousness of sin, in other words; but we see it properly and in perspective only when we have our eyes firmly on the greatness and unchanging purpose of God’s eternal plan for the marriage of heaven and earth.

It is a perspective that is necessary when our own sins or those of a failing and suffering world fill the horizon for us, so that we can hardly believe the situation can be transformed.

For if God’s purpose is what it is, and if God has the power and freedom to enter our world and meet us face to face, there is nothing that can destroy that initial divine vision of what the world is for and what we human beings are for.

Nothing changes, however far we fall; if we decide to settle down with our failures and give way to cynicism and despair, that is indeed dreadful – but God remains the same God who has decided that the world should exist so that it may enter into his joy.

At Christmas, when this mystery is celebrated, we should above all renew our sheer confidence in God.

In today’s Bethlehem, still ravaged by fear and violence, we can still meet the God who has made human tears his own and still works ceaselessly for his purpose of peace and rejoicing, through the witness of brave and loving people on both sides of the dividing wall.

But the second point growing out of this is of immense practical importance.

The world around us is created as a framework within which we may learn the first beginnings of growing up towards what God wants for us.

It is the way it is so that we can be directed towards God. And so this is how we must see the world.

Yes, it exists in one sense for humanity’s sake; but it exists in its own independence and beauty for humanity’s sake – not as a warehouse of resources to serve humanity’s selfishness.

To grasp that God has made the material world, ‘composed’, says John of the Cross, ‘of infinite differences’, so that human beings can see his glory is to accept that the diversity and mysteriousness of the world around is something precious in itself.

To reduce this diversity and to try and empty out the mysteriousness is to fail to allow God to speak through the things of creation as he means to.

‘My overwhelming reaction is one of amazement. Amazement not only at the extravaganza of details that we have seen; amazement, too, at the very fact that there are any such details to be had at all, on any planet.

The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple. Not only is life on this planet amazing, and deeply satisfying, to all whose senses have not become dulled by familiarity: the very fact that we have evolved the brain power to understand our evolutionary genesis redoubles the amazement and compounds the satisfaction.’

The temptation to quote Richard Dawkins from the pulpit is irresistible; in this amazement and awe, if not in much else, he echoes the 16th century mystic.

So to think of our world as a divine ‘prompt’ to our delight and reverence, so that its variety, the ‘extravaganza of details’, is a precious thing, is to begin to be committed to that reverent guardianship of this richness that is more and more clearly required of us as we grow in awareness of how fragile all this is, how fragile is the balance of species and environments in the world and how easily our greed distorts it.

When we threaten the balance of things, we don’t just put our material survival at risk; more profoundly, we put our spiritual sensitivity at risk, the possibility of being opened up to endless wonder by the world around us.

And it hardly needs adding that this becomes still more significant when we apply John of the Cross’s vision to our human relations.

Every person and every diverse sort of person exists for a unique joy, the joy of being who they are in relation to God, a joy which each person will experience differently.

And when I encounter another, I encounter one who is called to such a unique joy; my relation with them is part of God’s purpose in bringing that joy to perfection – in me and in the other.

This doesn’t rule out the tension and conflict that are unavoidable in human affairs – sometimes we challenge each other precisely so that we can break through what it is in each other that gets in the way of God’s joy, so that we can set each other free for this joy.

This, surely, is where peace on earth, the peace the angels promise to the shepherds, begins, here and nowhere else, here where we understand what human beings are for and what they can do for each other.

The delighted reverence and amazement we should have towards the things of creation is intensified many times where human beings are concerned.

And if peace is to be more than a pause in open conflict, it must be grounded in this passionate amazed reverence for others.

The birth of Jesus, in which that power which holds the universe together in coherence takes shape in history as a single human body and soul, is an event of cosmic importance.

It announces that creation as a whole has found its purpose and meaning, and that the flowing together of all things for the joyful transfiguration of our humanity is at last made visible on earth.

‘So God henceforth will be human, and human beings caught up in God. He will walk around in their company, eat with them and drink with them.

‘He will stay with them always, the same for ever alongside them, until this world is wrapped up and done with’.

Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those who are God’s friends.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Archbishop of Canterbury, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

He sunk himself In

The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.

–Martin Luther

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

From the Daily Bible Readings

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

–Micah 5:4

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

For our final Bible drill of the year, let’s turn our attention to the biblical truth illustrated in one of my all-time favorite Christmas carols, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The lyrics for this beloved song were penned by Charles Wesley in 1739….

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Liturgy, Music, Worship

Sharon's Christmas Prayer

She was five,
sure of the facts,
and recited them
with slow solemnity
convinced every word
was revelation.

She said
they were so poor
they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
to eat
and they went a long way from home
without getting lost. The lady rode
a donkey, the man walked, and the baby
was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)
but the Three Rich Men found them
because a star lited the roof.
Shepherds came and you could
pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?
Her quarter eyes inflated
to silver dollars.
The baby was God.

And she jumped in the air
whirled around, dove into the sofa
and buried her head under the cushion
which is the only proper response
to the Good News of the Incarnation.

”“ John Shea, The Hour of the Unexpected

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Poetry & Literature

A Good Christmas Reminder: A bit of George Lindbeck's review of the Myth of God Incarnate (1977)

You may need to enlarge the page to see it better; I sure did. Mark well that phrase evangelical neoliberalism–KSH.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

The Archbishop of Sydney's Christmas message 2007

Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus – the Bible records a prediction by the prophet Isaiah. He says “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. Given the way we now think of governments, this may seem a strange way to put it. After all, the Australian people have spoken to change our national government and we now think of the government as being on Kevin Rudd’s shoulders and the shoulders of his ministers.
But what I once told John Howard is true of Kevin Rudd also – we all have a higher authority to which we are accountable and ultimately, God has placed the government of us all on the shoulders of Jesus, the one the prophet Isaiah spoke about. That is a radical change of perspective!

If we imagine ourselves as independent human beings who do not need God – the world will prove us wrong. Climate change – for example. It is right we take action but our own actions must be accompanied by prayer to the God who sends the thunder and the rain.

It is vital that action continues to be taken to protect children in aboriginal communities but we must also help and pray for those who have already been affected. There is a dark legacy of abuse that may leave its mark for generations to come.

Our government, under God, also has a responsibility to look outward – to help our overseas neighbours both in peace and in war. The price some have paid for this came home to me this month as I took the funeral of Private Luke Worsley, killed in action in Afghanistan. We must pray for the safety of the men and women who serve Australia overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq, Timor and elsewhere.

On a local level, it will be our SES volunteers and bushfire fighters who serve and support neighbours during the coming summer – it is right we pray also for their safety and well-being.

Finally, may I wish you and yours a joyous time of celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a time to connect with friends and family and to rest and relax. I hope you are able to do that this Christmas, remembering the great truth we celebrate at this time, that Jesus is God come down to us in flesh – the God of the universe connecting with us.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Church of Australia, Anglican Provinces, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

Blog Open Thread: How, Where and With Whom are You Spending this Christmas?

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

John Betjeman: Christmas

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant.

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

Please read and ponder it all

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Poetry & Literature

Merry Christmas

May I take this opportunity to wish all blog readers a blessed and happy Christmas 2007–KSH.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

Christmas was and is Much More

Twas much,
that man was
made like God before,
But that God should
be like man
much more

–John Donne

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

What the Love of Christmas Looks Like

Watch it all and if you have time please take the time to watch this whole video also and read all the accompanying text.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Military / Armed Forces

BBC: What does Christmas mean to you?

How do you see Christmas? Are you a non-Christian who likes to celebrate this holiday? Do you have any interesting memories and pictures you want to share with us?

Are you in the armed forces? Will you be away for Christmas? The BBC News website is also looking for your stories about how you will be spending Christmas.

Check it out.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * International News & Commentary, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, England / UK

Notable and Quotable

Christian joy thus springs from this certainty: God is close, he is with me, he is with us, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as a friend and faithful spouse. And this joy endures, even in trials, in suffering itself. It does not remain only on the surface; it dwells in the depths of the person who entrusts himself to God and trusts in him.

Some people ask: but is this joy still possible today? Men and women of every age and social condition, happy to dedicate their existence to others, give us the answer with their lives! Was not Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta an unforgettable witness of true Gospel joy in our time? She lived in touch daily with wretchedness, human degradation and death. Her soul knew the trials of the dark night of faith, yet she gave everyone God’s smile.

In one of her writings, we read: “We wait impatiently for paradise, where God is, but it is in our power to be in paradise even here on earth and from this moment. Being happy with God means loving like him, helping like him, giving like him, serving like him” (The Joy of Giving to Others, 1987, p. 143). Yes, joy enters the hearts of those who put themselves at the service of the lowly and poor. God abides in those who love like this and their souls rejoice. If, instead, people make an idol of happiness, they lose their way and it is truly hard for them to find the joy of which Jesus speaks.

Pope Benedict XVI.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic