Text: Archbishop Martin at Midnight Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh


"At Christmas time we are especially conscious of families who have been bereaved this year, or who have someone in hospital or in care. The plight of homeless, migrant and refugee families is also in our Christmas thoughts and prayers, as well as the anguish of families caught up in war or violence in various parts of the world" - Archbishop Eamon Martin

Homily

God is with us, Alleluia! Come to save us Alleluia! Alleluia!

It is always good to come across a new Christmas carol among the old favourites, Away in a Manger, Silent Night, or Hark the Herald Angels. Graham Kendrick's Candle Song is not exactly a new carol, but I am pleased to hear it being sung more often. Those words: "God is with us, come to save us" get to the very heart of the Christmas message. In sending His only Son, Jesus, God wanted to come very close to us, to live among us. And this year especially, I am struck by the fact that God did so by being born into a human family!

In eight months time Ireland will host the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin. It is wonderful to think that God our Creator chose to be born into a human family, in humble circumstances at Bethlehem, and to grow up experiencing all the ups and downs, the laughter and tears of family life at Nazareth!

Christmas is such a special time for Family - the Christmas hugs and smiles, the welcomes home, all those cards, calls and messages are glimpses of the joy of love that sings at the heart of Family and which is, in turn, such a joy for the world! But, by choosing to be part of a human Family, God our loving Heavenly Father took also to Himself the pain and struggles of Family life. At Christmas time we are especially conscious of families who have been bereaved this year, or who have someone in hospital or in care. The plight of homeless, migrant and refugee families is also in our Christmas thoughts and prayers, as well as the anguish of families caught up in war or violence in various parts of the world.

I am always conscious of the sadness in many homes at Christmas time, when the hurts and feelings of family regret, disappointment, separation, or even anger, can resurface painfully at this time of the year.

God is with us, Alleluia! Come to save us Alleluia! Alleluia!

Imagine we could look through four windows into the life of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Through the first window, I see them on the night before Christmas. Mary is still pregnant and Joseph leads her through the deserted streets of Bethlehem looking for somewhere to stay. They feel frightened, anxious, vulnerable even; perhaps Mary feels the first painful pangs of childbirth. But there is no room for them at the inn, until someone out of kindness offers them the shelter of a lowly stable.

God is with us, come to save us. Alleluia!

Through the next window I see the Holy Family on Christmas Day, the child Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger; Mary and Joseph gazing lovingly on Him; animals, shepherds, and away in the distance, three travellers from far-away lands bringing gifts for the new-born king; stars above; all of creation focussed on this sacred moment. I realise that my somewhat sentimental image of a Silent Night when all is cosy, calm and bright, probably hides the rugged reality for that young couple in a smelly stable trying to protect their baby from exposure to a bitter Bethlehem winter.

God is with us. Come to save us. Alleluia!

Through the third window I see the Holy Family once more in peril. Herod has chosen to slaughter the innocent children in his selfish determination to kill the Heavenly King! Joseph and Mary are refugees, fleeing for their lives to Egypt with the child Jesus. Even in their fear and uncertainty they have faith: God is with us, come to save us ...

The fourth window opens to a time much later in the life of the Holy Family. Twelve years later, at Nazareth. The family have just returned from a visit to Jerusalem where things took a serious turn for the worse when the boy Jesus went missing. Joseph and Mary were worried sick, searching for Him everywhere ... their relief when they found Him in the temple sitting among the teachers, talking about God the Father... and His strange words to them: "didn't you know I would be about my Father's business?" Now, safely back at home, through the window I see Mary pondering all these things in her heart ... recalling the day the angel appeared to tell her she was to give birth to a son, who shall be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.

Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. Alleluia.

This night, as we reflect on the wonder of Christmas, realise that what we are celebrating is the greatest and most profound mystery in the whole of history: that God chose to save us by being born in human flesh, into a human family - a real Family with its fair share of worries, dangers, joys and challenges.

May I wish you, and your family, whatever your family story is, a share in the joy, peace and promise of Christmas, and a prayer that in the troubles and tangles of your family life, you will experience these days some of the joy that Christ came on earth to bring.

God is with us. Alleluia. Come to save us Alleluia. Alleluia.

Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

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