04 March, 2018

Homily for Midnight Mass - Angels and Shepherds

Luke 2:1-14
‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 
to you is born this day a Saviour, who is the Christ, the Lord.’ (Luke 2:10-11)
Earlier this week a BBC programme claimed that up to 25% of people who wouldn’t normally class themselves as religious believe in angels. So, it seems that even in our post-Christian, secular society many people still retain something of the time-honoured belief about these heavenly creatures. And the Christmas story we come to celebrate tonight is full of them. 
Reading first couple of chapters of Luke’s gospel we encounter angels everywhere – speaking, singing, catching people by surprise in the ordinariness of their lives, and bringing to them messages from God. They pave the way, as it were, for the Christmas story to unfold; as if directing a large theatre production, the divine drama of the Incarnation, they invite each character to play their part… They speak to the Virgin Mary, they speak to Joseph, at the beginning of the book they even speak to Zachariah about the birth of John the Baptist, and tonight they speak to us… ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy’, says the angel; and confronted by these news, what should our response be? 

If anything, 2017 has been the year of “Fake News”; at best these have been stories where the truth was side-lined in order to read as sensational headlines, and at their worst fake news have been clever pieces published to deceive or gain some dishonest advantage. So, when we hear again a two-thousand year old Bible story about heavenly creatures delivering incredible news, a few people, now perhaps more than ever before, may quite reasonably remain a little sceptic. But unseen, unheard, the angels speak to us tonight – the words of the gospel reading and the verses of our Christmas carols re-echo for us the first song they sang to the shepherds about the birth of Jesus Christ. Unseen, unheard, the angels speak to us in this place, and they bring us messages from God, true news about a child born for us. Unseen, unheard, the angels come to worship with us that child who is their King.

The Bible story speaks of shepherds living in the fields; people with whom we have probably little in common. But we have already travelled in the cold winter air, like the shepherds did, to worship the Christ-child. And the angels’ message for us is about another journey that lies before us; to travel yet further to a spiritual Bethlehem, to travel with our hearts to Jesus, to see him with in humble condition in which he was born for us, and to invite him to enter our lives – tonight – that he might live with us, and us for him.
‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 
to you is born this day a Saviour, who is the Christ, the Lord.’
Whether we remain sceptic about angels, or we take all news with a large pinch of salt, the good news proclaimed tonight remains; our salvation, our peace, our future lies wrapped in cloths in a stable, where God himself has come to be one of us. Like the shepherds, it is up to you to reach out to meet him.

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