SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE AT MIDNIGHT MASS, CHRISTMAS 2009
Galatians 4: 4 “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law”.
In C. S. Lewis’ first book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy, one of the heroines, declares that the queen of Narnia isn’t a real queen, but that she is a horrible white witch. She goes on to say that the white witch “has made an enchantment over the whole country so that It is always winter here, never Christmas”.
Always winter. Always snowing. And never Christmas.
I was thinking of this last weekend as I sat in our beautiful San Diego sunshine, listening to all the reports of the rest of the country under snow. People stranded in airports, and canceling Christmas visits because of the weather. As well as blessing God for living in San Diego, I couldn’t help reflecting on the vast difference when it’s always winter, and it’s always snowing.
Snow looks cute in pictures of Europe, and on Christmas trees, and on cards – but who could endure a continual winter without anticipating Christmas? Always winter and never Christmas. What a horrible thought! All that promise of gifts and music and feasting, but never actually arriving.
But in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy’s statement did contain the promise that one day it would be Christmas. That one day the wicked white witch would not reign. For indeed, Aslan, the Lion, was coming. And with Aslan’s coming the ice and snow began to melt over the world. And eventually so did the witch’s power.
It is not too difficult to see in this a parable of the birth of Jesus. Evil has its limits and in time the Lion of Judah will arise. Saint Paul said it more deliberately: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman”.
In tonight’s Gospel Saint Luke goes to great lengths to establish the time when Jesus was born. Quirinius was the governor, Augustus Caesar was the emperor – and to prove his point it was at the time of the great census.
Not only does Saint Luke want to emphasise the time and the year, but also the place. And not just any place – but Bethlehem, the town of David, the town of the ancient prophecy of the birth. The right place, at the right time.
Time. Every Christmas we wonder where the time has gone, and look forward to a new and better year. Tonight we hope that in 2010 the US will come out of its recession, the economy will improve, and jobs return, that people will keep their homes, that peace may prevail in trouble spots.
And tonight we are not looking forward to another year of hope, but a new decade. It’s been mentioned in the television news – a new decade. Can you remember ten years ago, the year 2000? We were about to move into a new millennium, a time of great significance we thought. Remember all the fuss and the celebrations and the hope of a new millennium? We dare not think of what has happened since the dawn of the year 2000, because so much has not been about hope.
I was in Australia then. Because Australia is one of the first countries to celebrate New Years’ Eve I stayed up all day to watch midnight unfold on television every hour in a new country. New York came late afternoon, if I remember rightly.
To sit there, as tired as I was, was magnificent, seeing every country ushering in that new year with rejoicing – but what happened to all that hope of ten years ago?
Nothing really changed. Why? Because people forgot what the millennium actually meant. They forgot that it is what we celebrate tonight – the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. They were so concerned with the future of the world, and the potential of a new millennium, they forgot that the whole point was what we come to celebrate tonight.
In a week’s time the world celebrates another New Year’s Eve, another passing of time. Put in its perspective, the world will celebrate Greenwich Mean Time – the time emanating from the Greenwich observatory on the outskirts of London. Greenwich Mean Time is what the world will celebrate.
Tonight we celebrate Bethlehem time. Bethlehem time is far richer and deeper than Greenwich time – for tonight we celebrate that moment of truth, that moment of time, which interprets the whole of time. Saint Luke and the other New Testament writers continually remind us that the birth of Jesus is the hinge, the key to the rest of time.
Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies which anticipated this very moment in time. Greenwich time is the measurement of time, and so we will reflect on our time and on our lives. But Bethlehem time is not about measuring of time, it’s about the meaning of time, and what gives value to our lives – how we live, how we treat each other, how we treat our world, and what we do with our time.
This is in fact the message of tonight’s Epistle, Titus 2:11-14. Bethlehem time gives us hope because it defies the secular view of this life and that its time is all there is.
Bethlehem time defies the bleak view that our time should be taken up with making lots of money, making life as pleasurable and profitable as possible. Bethlehem time says that life is eternal because God is with us.
Jesus, Emmanuel is born, so that you and I might live forever.
Tonight is the beginning of all time, because it offers us the possibility of new beginnings with God, with each other, and with the world he created. Tonight we are reborn, tonight you and I stand on the hinge of time – pondering the simplicity of Bethlehem. Tonight we begin to live again.
Let me conclude by quoting words from Ron Gillis in his carol “We still follow the star of Bethlehem”, part of his Christmas musical “A Christmas Light”:
“O we still follow the star to Bethlehem, and we still sing for joy at your birth, for we found peace, love, and charity, in the manger with you child pure and mild, reborn in our hearts this Christmas day”.