Sunday, 27 December 2020

...for us...

 I think Pope Francis gave us a very beautiful homily at his Christmas Mass, focussing on those words "for us".

To us a son is given.  ..... the birth of Jesus is the “newness” that enables us to be reborn each year and to find, in him, the strength needed to face every trial.  Why?  Because his birth is for us – for me, for you, for all of us, for everyone.  “For” is a word that appears again and again on this holy night: “For us a child is born”, Isaiah prophesied.  “For us is born this day a Saviour”, we repeated in the Psalm.  Jesus “gave himself for us” (Tit 2:14), Saint Paul tells us, and in the Gospel the angel proclaims: “For to you is born this day a Saviour” (Lk 2:11).  For me, for you.

Yet what do those words – for us – really mean?   They mean that the Son of God, the one who is holy by nature, came to make us, as God’s children, holy by grace.  Yes, God came into the world as a child to make us children of God.  What a magnificent gift!  This day, God amazes us and says to each of us: “You are amazing”.  Dear sister, dear brother, never be discouraged.  Are you tempted to feel you were a mistake?  God tells you, “No, you are my child!”  Do you have a feeling of failure or inadequacy, the fear that you will never emerge from the dark tunnel of trial?  God says to you, “Have courage, I am with you”.  He does this not in words, but by making himself a child with you and for you.  In this way, he reminds you that the starting point of all rebirth is the recognition that we are children of God.  This is the starting point for any rebirth.  This is the undying heart of our hope, the incandescent core that gives warmth and meaning to our life.  Underlying all our strengths and weaknesses, stronger than all our past hurts and failures, or our fears and concerns about the future, there is this great truth: we are beloved sons and daughters.  God’s love for us does not, and never will, depend upon us.  It is completely free love.  Tonight cannot be explained in any other way: it is purely grace.  Everything is grace.  The gift is completely free, unearned by any of us, pure grace.  Tonight, Saint Paul tells us, “the grace of God has appeared” (Tit 2:11).  Nothing is more precious than this....

The angel proclaims to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: a baby lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12).  That sign, the Child in the manger, is also a sign for us, to guide us through life.  In Bethlehem, a name that means “House of Bread”, God lies in a manger, as if to remind us that, in order to live, we need him, like the bread we eat.  We need to be filled with his free, unfailing and concrete love.  How often instead, in our hunger for entertainment, success and worldly pleasures, do we nourish life with food that does not satisfy and leaves us empty within!  The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, complained that, while the ox and the donkey know their master’s crib, we, his people, do not know him, the source of our life (cf. Is 1:2-3).  It is true: in our endless desire for possessions, we run after any number of mangers filled with ephemeral things, and forget the manger of Bethlehem.  That manger, poor in everything yet rich in love, teaches that true nourishment in life comes from letting ourselves be loved by God and loving others in turn.  Jesus gives us the example.  He, the Word of God, becomes an infant; he does not say a word, but offers life.  We, on the other hand, are full of words, but often have so little to say about goodness. 

And towards the end of the homily, Pope Francis offers a thought provoking quotation from a short poem by Emily Dickinson, which reads in full:

WHO has not found the heaven below
Will fail of it above. 
God's residence is next to mine, 
His furniture is love. 

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