Vigil of Christmas 2019 – GSC
Knock, knock, who’s there?
No need to cry it’s only a joke.
“Knock, knock, who’s there?” Might be a question we pose society as we to seek to speak to the world about our faith in Jesus Christ. Presence seems to be something we get a bit confused about as human beings. How many times have you said to another or had it said to you, “I can’t be in two places at once.” Yes, part of being human is to be limited in our ability to be present in one place at one time. There are examples of the saints who could bilocate, that is be in more than one place at a time, chief among them Padre Pio and St Martin de Porres, whose statue we have here, whose presence was seen in different countries across the world even though he never left Peru. It’s a curious bit of truth about these holy men and woman and it’s because holiness starts sharing in Godhead and the divinity is not bound to being in one place in the same way we are.
But for now, in the ordinary run of things, we can’t be in two places at once. And on top of this we have the advances of technology where we communicate and are concerned about those who are not really present to us at all. There’s much to celebrate about this wonderful world of easier communication and digital gismos but there is also much to be careful about. We have to remember that just because we can do something, we also have to ask the question of whether we should do it or not. We can sit and play games on our phones and sometimes there will be nothing wrong with that at all. But other times… Might it mean we’re not giving due regard to our neighbour, the person in our midst. Similarly if we listen to music on our headphones - enjoy your music, do - but might it mean we’re not really attentive to those whom God has placed there next to us, perhaps to support, perhaps to listen to.
We can also find ourselves being a bit uncertain about whom we are meant to be concerned about. This confusion about what it is to be present can mean we can be worried and despondent about people we can’t help. People hundreds of miles away, whom we are duty bound to pray for and whom we are duty bound to help by ensuring our shared world is not trashed. But God would not have asked us to help them unless He had placed them in our presence or unless He had called us to go and be with them. This is a call to realism and a recognition that we are not going to solve the world’s problems our selves, but we might be able to help the person next to us get off the bus or to move them to a deeper relationship with Jesus and that is what God wants us to concern ourselves with.
What we celebrate at this Christmastide is God with us. Mary and Joseph faithfully support each other to end up where they were required to be because of the census, namely Bethlehem, a place whose name means House of Bread. They go to this insignificant town and end up having to sleep among the animals and the dirt. The priests and Levites of the Old Law would presumably have not gone to such a place as they would have excluded themselves from the Temple fellowship through being unclean, but here we find our great High Priest being born for the life of the world. We shall call Him Christ the Lord and know Him to be true God and true Man, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.
Herod wanted to get rid of Jesus because He’s a threat to His power and wasn’t part of the plan Herod had formed. Herod wanted a quiet life in his little backwater of the Roman Empire, seeking to not be noticed, not to cause any trouble, not to get on the radar. Herod could well symbolise the values of our own age for we too will too readily discard that which is not useful or that which goes against our plans: the shoes that are a bit uncool, the car which really doesn’t say everything about our personality that we want it to, the piece of food that cost us so little. Easily dropped in our society today.
But what if that thing that we might easily abandon had been a gift from God? What if that was crucial to His plan? - and you just chucked it away?! What we have around us could very easily be discarded if we didn’t see presence as important. This Church stands as testimony to this. For years this building had been a right pain when it was let to the previous tenants. They stopped paying the rent. They stopped maintaining it as their lease required them to. Then they left. The walls were a hideous orange. It had manky old chicken wire at the front. It had a leaking roof. The temptation would have been to discard it. But what the Church did - and we bless God’s holy name for it - what the Church did was to recognise it as a gift and ponder how that gift might give glory to God and make His presence known here. How could Mass be said that all peoples might come and worship Him?
Jesus was born to instruct us to love our neighbour. Our neighbours are the people we find to be close to us: the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us this. The person attacked on the road to Jericho has no link with the Samaritan who helped him other than that they were sharing the same bit of the world at the moment when the attacked person needed help. The Levite and the Priest in that parable did not change their plans when the weak came up on their horizon. We can too readily not have our priorities changed by those around us, especially the poor and the sick and our Lord in the Bread and the Wine offered at this Mass. The presence of Jesus in the world, in the poor, in the Sacrament of the Mass is problematic for us. It means we’ll have to start looking at things in a different way, our priorities will have to change, that which we’d worked so hard for for so long, that which our parents told us was important. All that might have to be expunged from our life because the presence of Jesus pushes it out of our hearts.
Our readings this evening remind us we are chosen, we are a cause of delight in the eyes of God, hence He sends His Son into the world. Let’s create in our lives a worthy dwelling place for Him to come and be close to us, God-with-us, Emmanuel.