Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily at Solemn Pontifical Mass during the Night of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord in Year B at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
25 December 2017
Dear brothers and sisters,
We have come to celebrate one of most important feasts in our Christian calendar. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most commercialised even to the point of losing its spiritual significance. We need to recapture the spirit of Christmas in the midst of this banal distraction as well as in the critical context of our lived faith experience.
Christmas is God coming to us in human form and showing us that we are loved inherently, abundantly and eternally. The incarnation was not an after-thought of an angry God. Jesus was not Plan B, as it were, because we had wrecked Plan A. Jesus did not come simply to rescue fallen humanity. He came to reveal the fullness of God’s love for us and for all of creation. This means that in the incarnation, the depth of God’s love is made known and we are the recipients of that love. Therefore, no matter who we are: male or female, black or white, straight or gay, rich or poor, high or low, citizen or refugee et cetera, God’s love embraces us all without exception.
Christmas shows God to be a boundary breaker. In Jesus, God surrendered his own status and entered the created world. Paul says Jesus humbled himself by taking the form of a servant, and being found in our human condition, He humbled himself even more by accepting death on the cross. In the incarnation, God abandoned His own security in order to show us the depth of his love. Christmas teaches us about the love that dares to risk it all for the sake of the beloved. This pattern continued in his life and ministry. Jesus constantly went beyond the borders of every kind and reached out to those at the margins of society as well as those considered outsiders. In so doing, he invited us to step beyond our fears, to expand our capacity for love and to break down the barriers of division and exclusion.
Pope Francis has challenged us not to cling to our security, not to remain behind looked doors of our comfort and fear of change. He encourages us to be on mission. The church at its best is the church in journey with others, sharing our treasures of the Gospel. It is the church willing to suffer with others, willing as he said to be bruised and hurt, because it has been out on the streets with them. The church is not an enclosure for the virtuous and the privileged. It is a field hospital for the sick and the wounded.
My dear friends,
As God abandoned his own security in order to be with us, so must we have the courage to leave our comfort zones and discover the presence, the beauty, the love of God in unfamiliar or even disordered places, in the margins and the shadows of life. If Jesus was born in a manger and surrounded by lowly people, then we must discover him again in the unlikely situations and people.
Like Mary and Joseph who contemplated Christ born homeless and rejected, we can learn to recognise the same Christ who does not find welcome and hospitality on our shores, the same Christ who does not find a room in people’s hearts. We cannot worship the Christ child in truth without embracing the most vulnerable.
As we pray for wisdom and courage in aligning the church culture and praxis to Christ’s Kingdom vision, let us not be afraid to embrace the journey of self-emptying and downward mobility. We must die to the old ways of being church which is steeped in a culture of clerical power, dominance and upward mobility. We must commit ourselves anew to Christlike model of humility, inclusivity, compassion and powerlessness. Only then can the church be not simply a safe and healthy environment for the vulnerable but also an authentic sign of God’s presence.
Tonight, we rejoice at the birth of the Emmanuel, the God who is with us. Let us pattern our lives on the incarnational journey from security to boldness, from wanting certainty to learning to live in vulnerable trust, from protecting our status to opening our hearts to those who are on the edges of society and the church. May we who receive the depth of God’s love and mercy learn a radical new way of seeing, acting and relating to all with the mind and heart of Christ.