Christmas Eve 2015

"Do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people." We have come tonight to hear that message once again and to be filled with great joy. The birth of Jesus, the Messiah, takes all our fears away, gives us hope and reason to rejoice. Even so, for many, this Christmas it must be difficult to rejoice let alone have hope.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the many families in this country whose homes and livelihoods been devastated once more by heavy rain and severe flooding. For the past three years, our attention has been drawn to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian children living in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey and the millions of refugees, displaced by war, searching for a new life and somewhere to live, many of them children. Why do innocent children always have to suffer the outrages of war and why do men make children suffer?

There can be no excuse for the suffering inflicted on the weak and vulnerable by the great and powerful, or by those who are made powerful by the possession of guns and bombs. We know that there are no easy solutions to conflict, terrorism and war, but the suffering of children is a crime that cries to heaven for vengeance. What joy or hope can there be for those who are hungry and homeless, for the innocent who know nothing but violence and pain? The birth of the Son of God in a stable at Bethlehem and laid to sleep in swaddling bands in a manger, where cattle eat, is a sign of God's solidarity with the poor and those who suffer, above all a sign of his love for children and for all who are young and innocent. What also saddens us today is the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the disappearance of Christianity from its very cradle.

Jesus wasn't born in a palace or a temple; the Messiah didn't come into this world in a rich home or a luxury hotel. No, his companions were animals: the ox and the ass, sheep, mice and fleas. His mother Mary was a young village girl, a peasant, and the man people presumed to be his father, Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth. They were surprised and confused at the strange events surrounding his conception and birth and now here he was, cradled in a manger, the baby whom they were to call Jesus, meaning Saviour. No sooner was he born than angels appeared to shepherds, watching over their flocks by night, to tell them of his birth. "Today, in the city of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord." With the angels there appears a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men who enjoy his favour." That new-born babe is God, God who created everything, yet he comes to share our weakness and fragility, our suffering and pain. He is the Messiah, the Saviour, but God's way of saving is not ours. It is not through pride that he saves us but through humility, bringing life through death and redemption through suffering. This child in the manger is born to die and, through his death, he will reconcile the whole of creation with God. In Christ, all suffering is redemptive, all pain has purpose and meaning, and even little children can share in God's work of salvation, because God now shares fully in their suffering and pain.

May the joy of Christmas be yours and may the child lying in the manger help us to understand and value the suffering and death of innocent children in the world today. Now Christ's birth doesn't mean that their suffering is fine, that it doesn't matter and we needn't do anything about it. Quite the opposite: it is wrong, it is unjust, it should not happen, it must be stopped, but as long as that suffering and pain last, we know that Christ is still being born today and in still lying there, crying in the manger. Where children suffer, Jesus is there with them.

On behalf of Fr Prior and the Monastic Community, I wish you and all your loved ones a happy Christmas. "Do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people."