Come Jesus, Mercy of the Father - Christmas Homily 2015

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Come Jesus, Mercy of the Father - Christmas Homily 2015

Each Christmas we celebrate an extraordinary historical event that occurred well over two millennia ago. It is captured wonderfully in the many cribs we see, like the one in this cathedral. It is evoked through some of the most popular Christian hymns, hymns we call carols.

Already tonight through seeing the crib, singing the carols, listening to the readings we have engaged our minds and our hearts and our spirits with the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, our Saviour. The scene of the stable and the manager, of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus is imprinted on our minds. We engage emotionally with Mary and Joseph and the birth of the Son of God made man. We readily picture the scene of the shepherds minding their flocks and the sudden appearance of a band of angels.

Something extraordinary is occurring and we are caught up in it once again this Christmas.

St John in the opening words of his first Letter attests to his own personal experience of knowing Jesus Christ. He writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life”. These words capture his sense of wonder at that he has been privileged to experience.

St John knows that, through his years of close association with Jesus of Nazareth, he has been in a personal way with the very presence of God. He knows that he has had the singular privilege of being able to witness in Jesus Christ, God present among men.

Thus, in the Prologue to his Gospel, he reflects on the fact that the Word of God which has existed for eternity has entered humanity and become flesh. God, who has created the universe as a singular act of love, has deigned to become one with his own creation. Later in his Gospel he comments that God came for one sole purpose – he came to save humanity. It is a passage well known to all Christians that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son so that the world would be saved. (John 3:16)
His Gospel and his letters reveal his desire to share his own intimate experience and his profound wonder with everyone. He longs that all people will realise what he has come to know and will themselves discover that God has embraced humanity so that humanity may embrace God.

He wants all people to come to know Jesus Christ so that they may receive the full benefit of what he has done. St John wants people to experience who God is – God as revealed in the person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
When St John seeks to find a word to sum up all that he has come to know, there is only one word that comes close to expressing the nature of God and the nature of what God has done. So he declares: “God is love”. No other word can suffice. No other description can come close to expressing what God is like.

Love depicts the fact that God did not keep to himself, even though complete in Himself as a Trinity of persons. Love cannot be contained. Love flowed forth to create: to create the beauty and magnificence of the universe; to create human beings. This love wanted humanity to share in the glory of God himself. Human beings were destined for heaven.

This love could not stand by as humanity lost its way. Love not only created, but love came to redeem. 

The story of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem reveals this love most wonderfully. What is revealed is that Love comes not in power and splendour, but in silence and simplicity. Love comes in humility and poverty. Such is the nature of pure love.

One of the best known Christmas carols, “Silent Night”, captures the scene of the stable in Bethlehem most poetically. The time is night, not day. The scene is one of silence, not noise. The atmosphere is holy.

The carol says that all is calm. When the world sleeps, activity has ceased, a deep calm comes over things. Quiet and calm is the appropriate environment for us to move into the realm of the spirit. As busyness subsides, we move to the deeper levels of ourselves, we move to the level of the spirit. Here we touch that inmost part of ourselves, our soul. The calm enables the soul to breathe and come to the fore. We sense more keenly the deepest core of our being and the longing of the human spirit for the true source of life. That source is God himself.

Thus we come to perceive things that are of the spirit and not just of the flesh. We see beyond the appearance into the true nature of things.

The scene of the stable, of Mary and Joseph, and the child Jesus, speaks to our spirit. As we quietly ponder the scene we contemplate its wondrous meaning: Emmanuel, God is with us. He has come in simplicity and humility.

There is another word which we can use to describe what God has done in sending his Son. It is a word that Pope Francis has given to the Church for this coming year. The word is mercy.

We could say that in the circumstances of the birth of the Son of God, God has revealed his merciful love for humanity. God has reached out to heal and restore. God has not chosen to stand in judgement and condemnation – though there is much to condemn. This great act is an act of mercy on the part of God. He has not despaired of humanity and its evil and wickedness. He has acted to restore and save.

God is a god of infinite mercy and compassion. This is what is revealed in the stable in Bethlehem.

Tonight, let us welcome Jesus as the expression of the mercy of God to humanity and to each of us. Let us open our hearts to Him and invite him to touch and heal our bruised and wounded spirits. Let us take a moment to soak in the revelation of God to us in the stable in Bethlehem.

Let our quiet contemplation lead us to pray: “Come, Lord, come to me tonight as you came to humanity all those years ago. I need you. I long for your presence afresh in my life”.

Tonight each of us can look at our lives and see how great is our need. We can ask that the mercy of God will restore us in the midst of our brokenness. Tonight let us not hide from the reality of our own poverty and fragility.

Let us invite the Son of God born of the Virgin to come to us and refresh our weary spirits. Let us invite him as the merciful love of the Father.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, 24 December 2015