Introduction to Mass and Homily preached by the Right Reverend Thomas Williams, Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool, at Midnight Mass of Christmas. 11.30 pm on Monday 24 December 2012 in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, broadcast live on BBC Radio 4.
Introduction to Mass:
The darkness of midnight is pierced by the assurance: ‘Today a Saviour has been born for us: he is Christ the Lord’. The promise of the poet prophet Isaiah is fulfilled: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’. For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all. The lantern of this Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, shines out in our city’s night for all to see. The prayer of each one of us here is that the Light who is Mary’s Son will scatter all that is dark in the story of those who by radio choose to enter into this Midnight Mass. And so my brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.
‘Those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined’.
If the darkness of serious illness is closing your eyes or of someone you love to sun and moon and stars, tonight belongs to you.
If you or someone dear to you is walking in the valley of the shadow of death, whether young or old, child, parent or loved one, here you are at home.
If flood waters, poverty, unemployment, have cut you off from the things, pleasures which have been in other years, part and parcel of your Christian celebration, unassailable joy is the gift assured for you this night.
If you are far from home this night, perhaps in Afghanistan, God’s word speaks comfort and joy into your heart and under your roof, to your family now.
If even a bitter, evil, hurtful and hurting way of life means Christmas in prison for you this year, the word from this night’s event is: Do not be afraid.
For at the centre of this night is no sugary, rose-tinted, fragile, superficial fairy story. But a complicated world like ours: occupation by a Roman Empire and oppressive laws ignoring what makes sense for a woman with child. It is not a story of comfort and welcome: but no place for them in the inn: no sign of wealth to buy a finer place.
And the word, the light of this event only makes sense for shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Shepherds: men whose way of life made it impossible to share fully in the worship and festivals of their people: men with a reputation for living outside the pale, no strangers to thieving: sinners, the neighbours might say.
And all of this is to prepare hearts and minds for how the story of the child born for us, the one given for us will unfold. Even to a Friday when at noon deep darkness shall enfold the land: from a wooden manger to a wooden cross: first visitors giving place to two criminals as his final companions and a promise of Paradise: a day when his mother Mary will take her stand by his side at the foot of his cross: her Son reduced to total poverty and need, crying out: I thirst. How blest we are that a Christmas Carol, like the Holly and the Ivy tells the whole story.
A great carol but this is not a carol service: it is Midnight Mass: and that means here among us is the whole story, all the darkness, all the shadows even unto death, and the light that bursts forth from the tomb and angels proclaiming not only: ‘Do not be afraid: Today a Saviour has been born for us who is the Lord,’ but who at sunrise on a Spring morning proclaimed: ‘Do not be afraid: I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised from the dead.’
But he is here for this is Midnight Mass, Christmas, and at the Midnight Hour, however dark it may be:
‘We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again’.
Here and now is Joy to the World.