At this evening, I gave a short history for the 1 + 3 Masses that we have for Christmas eve and day. If earlier, it was the Christmas Vigil, then now, we are celebrating the first of the 3 Christmas Masses, that is, the Midnight Mass. The reason for this goes back to a time when Rome celebrated stational Masses when Pope and people used to process from one Church to another to celebrate the different liturgies.
The Gospel for the Vigil Mass earlier taken from Matthew highlighted the genealogy of Jesus. For this Mass, the Prophet of Advent, Isaiah in the first reading reminds us that the people who walked in darkness now have seen a great light. Darkness is banished by the appearance of the true Light and the poor shepherds in the Gospel who kept watch end up witnessing the angelic chorus breaking into the Gloria in excelsis Deo.
In the earlier homily, I spoke on Jesus as the Saviour, not just of Christians but also of the entire world and made the connexion between the work of Salvation and the necessity of the Church for this mission. Where the Head is, the Body, which is the Church, must be also. I also pointed out that in order to save there is a presumption of a longing for salvation. Without this link, what is there to save? In other words, if I am not a sinner then there is no reason for Jesus to come. Furthermore, and this is the kicker, if I have no need for salvation, then there is no urgency to be good and coming to Church will only serve to make me feel good or as local parlance would have it: “shiok sendiri”. Let us be clear: Salvation is closely associated with the admission of sin in the sense that the profound appreciation of God’s salvation is inextricably linked to the acknowledgement of our sinfulness. Now, if Christ came to save, then the Church is right at the heart of this reconciliation between God and man.
Perhaps this connexion between Jesus and the Church in the mission to save is made clearer by the Gospel. The focus is Light because the darkness provides the contrast for the light to shine brighter. Isaiah paints the picture so vividly for us in the first reading: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light“.
Now, what is ironical is that the Light was not recognised as we heard from the Gospel. No room at the inn may on the surface appear to be a logistical problem. There was a empire-wide census taking place. The great displacement of people resulted in the reduction of rooms available for all the travellers. However, the more profound truth is that the lack of accommodation symbolises a darkness that has enveloped the world so overwhelmingly that it failed to recognise the Light when it came. This darkness is blinding as both Isaiah and John affirmed. “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; Israel does not know, my people do not understand... They have abandoned Yahweh, despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from him”. (Is 1:3-4). And, “He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognise him. He came to his own and his people did not accept him”. (Jn 1:10-11).
Humanity’s blindness is even more damning because animals could recognise the Light whilst the world could not. For Catholic today, the question is how the world could ever know of Him when we ourselves do not really know Him, who He is and why He came for us.
If you ever go to Bethlehem, to the birthplace of Christ, you will find the building itself teaching us how to encounter this Light of the world; how to know Him better. The entrance to the Church of the Nativity is accessed through a door under which one has to bend and stoop low in order to enter. Imagine that Kings or Emperors, the high and mighty, when they visit this holy place of Christ’s birth, they too must go on their knees. Is that not a humbling invitation to us. In fact, during the Creed later, the part where we usually make a profound bow is replaced by kneeling. We bend our knees when we confess these words “By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became Man”.
To walk into the great Light we bend our knees. Christmas is a call to humility. The Light that Jesus brings break through a humble Church and a people who learn what it means that the Church must follow in the step of her Servant Saviour and is not a Church that demands to be served. So in stooping low, do we go searching for Him in other low places where He can be found? It is not an invitation to sin but rather an invitation to search for Him in the lowliness of the poor, the lost or the dispossessed but most of all to those who are waiting for the grace of the Gospel to be brought to them.
The Light has come into the world and the Church has a duty to bring that Light to the parts of the vineyard still clouded by the darkness of not knowing Jesus the Saviour of the world. Whilst this beautiful Light shines brightly, sadly its brilliance is often dimmed by us sons and daughters of the Church. The salvific mission of the Church is impeded by the tepidity of our faith and the half-heartedness of our conversion, by the strong shadow of sin in our lives. Tonight, Jesus the Light of the world invites us stand under His brilliant illumination. Humility by acknowledging that we are sinners in need of salvation is the first step into the merciful light of His salvation. The question we ask now is if there is room in the inn of our hearts for this Light to enter? If you already have room for Him, make that room even larger so that the greater will your conversion be. The greater your conversion, the more effective the Church will be in bringing His light to the world. When we do stand in His light, His brilliance will definitely shine through our love and actions as we become the gospel for others to read and encounter the Saviour of the world. It is wonderful to give gifts but the greatest present you can give to the world is to be the gift of Jesus Himself to those whom you encounter. Shine! Jesus! Shine through me.