Homily preached at Christmas Midnight Mass
Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, 2018
There are many kinds of human temptation. One of the most curious of these is checking out – almost compulsively – just how ghastly something is. I confess that this past week I’ve been cranking up my computer early in the morning just to read the latest ghastly pathologically narcissistic tweet, or worse still, decision or decree, of President Trump. Confession over.
We could get depressed with the state of the world if our only source of knowledge and understanding was news-websites. Thankfully they don’t convey the whole picture. Faith presents us with a word view that goes beyond events and statements and politics. Faith prompts us to watch out for and notice (our Advent dispositions) people who, though not in the limelight, outshine those political and other leaders who like to hog everything for themselves.
Faith, then, lets us remain people of hope; that’s why we are an optimistic people. As we heard in our first reading: the people that walked in darkness has seen a great light, the rod of the oppressor you Lord have broken, and now your people rejoice for a child born is for us and has been given the name Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Prince of Peace.
Those titles are not yet referring to Jesus. This reading from the great prophet Isaiah comes from about 700 years before Jesus; the baby referred to is Prince Hezekiah. He did grow up to be a King with integrity but in his old age he disappointed his people. Using colloquial language, we would say that his political successes and military victories went to his head; he drifted into vanity and showing off which became his downfall. So, the lives of the people of that Kingdom (Judah) were marked by a pattern of hope to despair to hope, of liberty to exile or colonization then to freedom followed again by exile or invasion. (As was the case with all the old testament peoples.) But through all this political and military intrigue, through the murk and despair and invasion, the prophets spoke, the voice of faith penetrated; the prophets shined light on the evidence of God at work, on faithfulness, on the source of human hope.
That mix is in many ways the same for us today. Wars still are often about land and territory, and are always about power and greed and narcissism (whether it be individual, institutional, tribal, national or an alliance). And our generation has added new dimensions of war: cyber wars battling to conquer or at least shape public opinion (the masters of which are Putin and his corrupt cronies); or the commercial colonization wars (a master of which is Amazon whose American warehouse workers’ pay per hour is $11.00 and who because of its massive retail stranglehold argues it should be allowed to evade tax and face no consequences).
How then does our faith help us to navigate this continuing mix of murk? Our gospel story tonight adds a totally new dimension to the timeless international stage of politics, influence and faith. Mary and Joseph, as we heard, were travelling back to Joseph’s home town of Bethlehem to complete the census that the Emperor Caesar Augustus had decreed. And while there, Mary gave birth. A birth which seemed like any other, into a poor family away from home, but in fact was wholly different. The Angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds nearby to comfort them: be not afraid, listen, today I bring you news of great joy – similar words used at the birth of Hezekiah – but here’s the difference: today in the town of David [that’s Bethlehem: Jesus’ whakapapa goes back through Joseph to King David and to King Hezekiah] there has been born not just a prophet, not just another King, but a Saviour. He is Christ the Lord. And the heavens opened, and a throng of angels sang in praise of God.
The birth of the saviour; the birth of the universal saviour of the world. Of Saviours, there can be only one.
That is why this night is so sacred. That is why tonight we celebrate the defining foundation of our Christian faith: that Jesus was sent into the world for a universal mission, for every human person irrespective of culture ethnicity or religion; and that peace and goodness are possible.
That is also why the forces that divide humanity are not just disappointing. They are sinful. Because they are a rejection of God’s plan for a universal or world-wide single human family through Jesus. War, exaggerated nationalism, tribalism, corruption, and greed (easy perhaps to land at someone else’s feet) but also prejudice, indifference, trivialisation of human dignity, narrow mindedness (more difficult to shrug off our own shoulders), are all abhorrent to us because in the wake of the birth of the universal saviour Jesus the Christ they are nonsense, illogical, and thus are a wound in the side of a person or community of faith.
Recently I had a beautiful experience of the breadth of our worldwide family of faith which gathers in the name of Jesus the universal saviour. I was celebrating Mass in a country that has very few Catholics – less than one percent of the population; a country that has a one-party state governed by a cartel of corrupt men and women, puppets of the massively powerful Chinese Communist Party. I was in beautiful Laos celebrating Sunday Mass at the Cathedral in the capital Vientiane.
Instead of giving in to despair at the economic exploitation and the squashing of basic human rights, the tiny Catholic community of priests and Sisters and lay Catholics is a beacon of hope. They work together to do their bit through hidden service and witness to create humble ripples of goodness and hope.
How does one do that in the face of giant waves of corruption? By remaining people of hope, people nurtured and reinvigorated by faith. Those who walk in darkness will see a great light. Gathering for Mass Sunday by Sunday that community, like ours, lives the consequence of this sacred night. That Christ’s birth, the giving of a saviour, is truly the good news of great joy which shatters the fake hope tweets of narcissism, greed and division.
Christ’s presence in our history means that hope and goodness are possible, are real, are what every human being is called to. In Jesus, we are one. As we pray across the globe so simply but beautifully in the third Eucharistic prayer: Listen graciously Lord to the prayers of this family whom you have summoned before you. In your compassion O merciful Father gather your people scattered throughout the world. Amen.
Bishop Charles Drennan.
 What side of that trade war are we on? Many argue that to boycott something like Amazon is a waste of time, will make no difference etc. True, one person’s boycott of Amazon will be imperceptible but equally so one person’s decision to support local, tax contributing, at least minimum wage paying, retail outlets will have a significant impact for the good on those shops and our town communities to which they make a social, personal contribution.