My homily for midnight mass – inspired by Rob Marsh on Thinking Faith
We can probably identify life –changing moments….. moments that make us think about life in a profoundly different way. I would like to share with you a life-changing moment, that most of us have shared. A few years ago, in Manila the capital of the Philippines, I had my first major operation – on my left knee. I had worn out the cartilage and after the operation – the surgeon told me my football and running days were over. My first reaction was – can I still go hill walking? That hospital in Manila –was a turning point because suddenly my body became an obstacle to my dreams. My left knee was screwed – and it forced me to reluctantly admit – there was no way I was going to ever going to become a midfield general, and score the winning goal in the Champions League Final…….. Ok maybe I knew that already…. It reminded me of when I was a little boy and coming out of the cinema after seeing Superman and being mildly irritated when I couldn’t fly – I even had the cape on….. but now it was definitive, the doctor told me I had worn my left knee out with training and running for marathons. This was a turning point for me and for so many of us because when we are young it is as though our bodies are filled with unlimited potential. We admire youth because we see they can dream – and now my body had become an obstacle to my dreams……
The opposite is at the heart of Christmas – that God seems to love human bodies and choose them as the way of fulfilling God’s dreams. God the creator of the universal – and remember according to the Hubble Telescope the observable universe is hundreds of billions of Galaxies – and our Galaxy probably has 2 billion stars in it. This all powerful – creator God – 2014 years ago (give or take a few years) – took on a finite human body – became a human being – a little baby – vunerable – flesh and blood – crying and going to the toilet – the God who created the universe.
How does infinity dwindle to infancy? Why did God choose to do this – in Bethlehem – in a country that was occupied by a ruthless foreign power? How does God fit into a body without making it explode? This is the mystery of the Incarnation, remember incarnation – carne – flesh, meat – God became our flesh and blood – no other religion claims that – in fact if you were to claim to be God you are silenced…. Killed, incarcerated, and that is exactly what happened to Jesus. It is such an amazing thing – to be the infinite God – who has become finitely incarnate.
Since I have been working at university – listening to so many students – sharing their joys, listening to their fears and worries. I have seen the pressure so many of themselves are put under – academic pressure, financial pressure. But there is another kind of pressure which is deeper – a terrible kind of desolation – and it is all to do with self image, how they see their bodies. I listen to beautiful young women telling me how they feel ugly, how they feel fat, their hair is the wrong colour , their breasts aren’t big enough. And this deep unhappiness with their bodies is growing with men too – IT is being fuelled by the false images they are watching – airbrushed models, unrealistic portrayals of sex, the culture of celebrity. The financial and academic pressure will pass – but this type of pressure, self inflicted is much deeper and spiritually much more corrosive.
So remember the Incarnation – remember the real heart of Christmas – God, it seems, doesn’t hate bodies. In fact God uses the human body – with all its limitedness – and all its mortality – to save the world. How could we have allowed ourselves to be so far from that? There are websites know that encourage people to harm their bodies …… there is so much poison out there about how we think about ourselves… Christmas is the antidote to that poison.
And remember tonight is the start of Jesus’s human journey – the infinite all powerful God vulnerable in the hands of his mother – who will soon become refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers as they escape King Herod into Egypt. Remember how the story ends – the Jesus the sun of God is tortured – his body nailed to the cross – and his heart stops beating, water and blood flowing out of his broken body. This is no myth – this is history. And when he rises from the dead – his glorious risen body – which is still carrying his wounds – becomes our hope, becomes our destination.
Every day in this church – that body is made present to us in a unique way during the mystery of the mass – 365 days a year – twice a day when university term is on – three times a day on a Sunday – the incarnation of Christ during mass. There is that famous saying – a dog is not just for Christmas – so let us remember the incarnation is not just for Christmas. So all of you here tonight – who are occasional catholics – or visitors – you are very welcome, and it is great to see you. Come more often next year – it would be wonderful to see you every Sunday - this great mystery of God’s love – that he chose to take on the form of this life, on this planet, in this Galaxy – it is a mystery that we can never get used to. But If we contemplate it, if we live it, if we renew it weekly – it is a mystery that brings us joy, a mystery that makes us appreciate life and our bodies, no matter how old they become. When we forget it – and get caught up in the cares and worries of life – I can assure you one thing – we become miserable.
In a moment we will express our faith – this great story of God becoming Man – and tonight we will kneel after the words – God became man – to contemplate the immensity of the incarnation – to remember the Joy of Christmas.