Christmas Midnight Mass – 2014
Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy: 12-25-2013
My Brothers and Sisters,
The stories, those finely crafted word pictures of our Gospels, they always address our own inner life and experience. And so St. Bernard encourages his monks on Christmas Eve:
Sanctify yourselves today and be ready,
for tomorrow you shall see in you the majesty of God.
Nativity: An Altarpiece
by Denise Levertov
The wise men are still on the road, searching,
crowns and gifts packed in their saddlebags.
The Shepherds are still asleep on the hill, their woolen
caps pulled over their ears, their campfire low.
It’s the wondering animals, ox and ass, unused
to human company after dark, who witness,
alone with Mary and Joseph, the birth; who hear
the cry, the first cry
of earthly breath drawn through the newborn lungs
And the cord is cut, and the shepherds
that selfsame moment have sprung to their feet
in a golden shower of angels, terrified, then
rejoicing. They lope downhill to the barn
to see their Redeemer. A cloud of
celestial music surrounds them.
The wise men
are still far off, alone on the road with a star.
But the ox and the ass
are kneeling already, the Family’s oldest friends
in the glow of light that illumines the manger, the straw,
their eyes and the human eyes – a glow
shed from no source but the living Child Himself.
Now we have just heard one inner experience of this Christmas Gospel written by the elder American poet, Denise Levertov…with its golden Unifying thread of light woven throughout the darkness of this night. Isn’t this the primary fascination of Christmas for the child and also for the adult… this “play” of light in the darkness? Is this not the very skeletal structure upon which St. Luke stretches his Christmas Gospel?
The glow of light that illumines the manger, the straw,
and our own eyes,
A glow shed from no source but the new born Child himself.
The shepherds are particularly Luke’s Christmas gift to us – they are our way into the gospel. Those shepherds: who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. My Brothers and friends, we are shepherds of the night. The darkness around us – within us – is deep! The discouragement – our lack of faith – the violence of our world – the painful loneliness of so many – even the desperation we can sense at times in ourselves and in those we love. We too are shepherds in search of the light in this Christmas night – the golden thread of the Christmas gospel. The light on the face of the new born Child himself.
I give you the end of a golden thread…
writes the English Mystical poet, William Blake,
Only wind it into a ball, it will
Lead you in at Heaven’s Gate
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.
The Word became flesh. Do we really have any sense what that means? In Jesus’ birth, God does not alleviate our pain, dispel our doubts, lighten our life’s loneliness … No, in the birth of Jesus, God becomes our doubt, God becomes our life’s loneliness …this is what we mean when we say The Word became flesh. This Christmas Gospel promises us that in every human experience there lies the end of a Golden Thread.
Do not be afraid-
The angel repeats for all of us, shepherds of this night.
Do not be afraid – listen. I bring you news of great joy.
A joy to be shared by the whole people.
You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes & lying in a manger.
This is the Golden thread of Christmas night. This is the light that illumines the manger, and the straw of our own inner life everyday experience. This illusively thin yet steel-strong thread of belief that in every human experience – God in the manger is attempting once again – is reaching out – to give Himself to us!
From this time onwards & forever
Chants the ancient Christmas prophet,
From this time onwards & forever
The jealous love of the Lord our God
Will do this.
+ Abbot Peter McCarthy