Christmas Day 2013 

 "From his fullness we have all received grace in return for grace, for grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest the Father's heart, who has made him known." With this powerful image, St John ends the Prologue to his Gospel. But it is far more than an image: it is the reality that Christians live each day of their lives as, through grace, Jesus makes known to us his Father's love and teaches us the truth which sets us free from the tyranny of sin, purifies our hearts and prepares us to see God face to face. This is the mystery of Christmas: this is the Christmas story.

This morning we come together to thank God for the birth in human flesh of his Only Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father before time began, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, a man like us in all things but sin. We have prepared for today by faithfully keeping Advent, the season of hope and consolation. We have heard the message of the prophets. We have prayed earnestly for his Second Coming at the end of time. We have longed to celebrate this memorial of his Nativity, praying that he prepare in our hearts a manger in which he can lie and there fill our hearts with grace and truth. Today, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, we see lying in the manger "the radiant light of God's glory, the perfect copy of his nature," he who "sustains the universe by his powerful command," who having "destroyed sin, has gone to take his place in heaven at the Father's right hand."

The new-born babe we kneel before and adore, Mary's son, is God incarnate, God made man, in the words of Charles Wesley's famous hymn, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the'incarnate Deity, pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel." In Jesus, God is with us as never before. He is not simply with us but in us. St Irenaeus wrote, "The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself." God's vocation for us is far greater than we can imagine or understand. What can we do but accept it with humility and thanksgiving, with awe and rapture, as an act of faith, love and surrender to his Divine will? That God should become what we are in order that we might become what he himself is, shows us the unfathomable riches of the poverty and humility of God. In the Incarnation God opens his heart to man and lays himself bare before us, for Jesus reveals to us the naked truth about God, that God is love and that God's love for us is absolute and all-embracing

Obviously, at Christmas, a lot is made of the details of the Christmas story, and that's not surprising: they're quite irresistible. What with Christmas cards, Nativity plays and carol services, it's easy to get sidetracked into a romantic rereading of the events of Christmas without any real theological basis: well-intentioned, no doubt, but ignorant of the very truth that Christ came to teach us and of the faith which is the gift of grace. This is no criticism, because God works in a mysterious way and looks for those who truly seek him with a sincere heart. But the real poverty of the Child in the manger has little to do with the picturesque circumstances surrounding his birth. Rather it is the fact that this Child is God, God who lays aside his divinity to take upon himself the condition of sinful humanity, the Lord who becomes a servant, the Creator who enters fully into the fragility of creation, God who throughout his life on earth will know the vulnerability and precariousness of human life, from being a foetus in his mother's womb and a new-born baby in swaddling bands to being taken prisoner, tried and scourged, condemned to death by crucifixion and buried in a tomb. All this he did for love of us, wretched and sinful as we are; all this to save us from hell and eternal damnation; all this to reconcile us with himself; all this to open for us the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven; all this to wrap us eternally in his embrace. In 2nd Corinthians St Paul writes, "Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich."

The truth of Christmas is not above and beyond us: Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the angels, the ox and the ass, the Wise Men with their gifts, the star of Bethlehem, the sun and moon, indeed the whole of creation, worship and adore the Infant Jesus and recognize in him their Lord and God, their Saviour and their King, the Word through whom all things were made, the Light that darkness cannot overpower, the Source of grace and truth. Let us join with them as we celebrate our Christmas Mass this morning.

On behalf of Fr Prior and the Monastic Community, I wish you all a very happy and a holy Christmas.