Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Homily at Christmas Midnight Mass, 2013

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

The Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, was built about 300 years after the lifetime of Jesus over the site of a cave which local tradition had revered since the first century as the birthplace of Jesus. And it is quite a likely site. The ground is riddled with caves and many first century dwellings in the region of Bethlehem consisted of one room above ground, for the family in summer, and one under ground, where the animals lived, and the family kept warm in winter. So if you went to a home in Bethlehem and wanted a manger - an animal feeding trough - you would find it down below, in the cave. 

That cave is still there, and the pilgrim can descend beneath the Church and see, beneath ornate hangings and rich altars and marble claddings, a small round place on the ground, surrounded by a golden star, where the original limestone floor can still be seen. The precise spot, it is said, where Jesus, God in our human flesh, first touched the earth.

We might ask, how can we know it was that precise spot, rather than one in another corner of the cave, or in the cave next door?

But actually it is very important that there was a place, a little spot where God first touched the earth in Jesus. There and not somewhere else, that time and not some other. 

Because in coming among us as a human being God becomes particular. In entering the world, coming to us to save us, God must confine himself to a particular place, a particular time. In order to redeem all places, all times. 

Bethlehem then was crowded and hectic, suffering a housing shortage as a result of a piece of distant and inept bureaucracy - the decree that everyone must go to their ancestral town to be registered. Historically this was probably a decree about land registration, doubtless with some revenue in view. Government and administration are necessary, of course, if they are for the good of society. But a decree issued without any thought for the impact on human lives does not serve society. Distant and faceless bureaucracy can be an instrument of oppression, making sure that everyone remembers who is in charge, and who is not. And instruments of oppression are ways of forgetting the human.

Bethlehem today is much changed, in some ways. The security barrier - a twenty foot high concrete wall - snakes its way across the landscape, those fields where the shepherds once kept watch over their flocks. It does do what it is said to do, which is to keep radicalised terrorists from getting into Jerusalem. But it also stops local people from farming their land or going to work, dividing ancient communities many of which are now abandoned and derelict. 

But in some ways Bethlehem does not change. Whether it be faceless bureaucracy, or fear, violence and division. Bethlehem has seen them all. As has every part of the world. All are ways in which the human tends to be forgotten, the human project imperilled. 

Human beings have been created, gifted, with the extraordinary gift, that we can love. And therefore, because love has to be free, we can choose not to love. And the human project fails, in society, in ourselves, when we turn away from love. And that has been the tragedy of the human race from the beginning.

But the child born in Bethlehem is the ray of hope in this weary, dehumanising world. Then, and now. Because in the middle of humanity forgetting to be human, God remembered the human. God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son. Gave himself, as one of us. Gave himself in order that the human project might not fail. 

When Jesus first touched the earth in Bethlehem he did so as the human being who would live the love for which we were created, perfectly. And he did so also as God, our Creator, come to raise us to himself so that we might participate in the Divine Nature. Divine and human, in one person, so that the human might become Divine.

As Jesus was born in Bethlehem, to save the human project, so also he waits to be born in every place that needs that good news, that salvation. In every place of conflict, division, violence and fear. And in every heart, in every human life. In yours, in mine. He longs to be born in us to redeem the human project that is me and you. He longs to be born in us so that we might live in and from his love.

The little space of our hearts is always enough for Jesus, he who dwelt in that “heaven and earth in little space” in Mary’s womb, he who was born in that cave at Bethlehem. The cave of the Nativity is found in our hearts too if we will let Jesus be born there.

And we do not need to fear. Are there ‘security barriers’, divisions that make us afraid, in other people or in ourselves? Christ overcomes all barriers, unites the divided, in humanity and in ourselves. 

Tonight Jesus comes to us in love, to overcome our sin, our fear, our division.  He comes to us because God remembered the human, even when humanity did not. He comes to us that the human project might not fail. He comes to be born in the little space of our hearts and our lives, where he longs to dwell in the fullness of his divinity and love. Like that little star on the floor at Bethlehem, if we let him be born in us Jesus will make of our lives a “touching place” where his love becomes real for us and for the world around us.

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