Homily preached by the Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool, at Midnight Mass of Christmas. 11.30pm on Sunday 24 December 2017 in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool. (Broadcast live by BBC Radio 4.)
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Tonight in this Cathedral Church we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, because we believe that he is the One who has come to bring light to our darkness. The baby in the manger is the One that was foretold by the prophets. That is the truth that we have received from the first Christians, those followers of Jesus and their immediate successors who knew him personally. They had no doubts about Jesus. They knew that he had been a human being just like them; they knew that he had suffered and they knew that not only had he died on the Cross but he had risen again. Furthermore, they were confirmed in this belief by the gift of God's life, the Holy Spirit. It is that spirit which enables us to believe. So that is why we are here: because we are believers.
There has been a lot in the media over recent months about what is false and what is true in the news. How are we to know the difference? Can we trust what we read or hear? Tonight we celebrate the fact that the first Christians had no doubts. They believed because they had the proof of experience to verify their beliefs; they preached that which they had seen and heard.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus and believe in him and his Father in heaven because we have received that belief as an inheritance from our forebears in faith: they are those Christians who through two millennia have kept the flame of faith burning and passed it on to us.
It is strange that in this technological age it is harder than ever to discover the truth. Who can we trust? So much that we relied on in the past is no longer secure. We all thought Woolworth's would be there for ever, and that our savings would keep us in retirement. We know that we are a prosperous country but we are nervous because of Brexit, the housing shortage, the growing number of children and adults who are living in poverty, and the increasing demands on our foodbanks. And the story changes from day to day: it is hard to know what to believe and who to trust.
But tonight, even if for one night only, let us turn with faith to the One who came into a world which was riddled with distrust and rumour. At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were under foreign occupation. That, in itself, breeds distrust: there are always traitors and informers in such a situation. Herod tried to mislead the Magi because he felt threatened by the birth of a child. How devious is that? The tax collectors were another example of what people will do to stay in favour and make a quick buck by mistreating their fellow countrymen. In our times, many people experience just that kind of thing. Who do you depend on in Syria or the Congo? Closer to home, terrorism in our midst can make us distrust individuals and sections of society.
Yet our saviour was conceived by a young girl who despite the awful situation in her country remained open to God and who trusted others; that is why Mary was able to conceive by the Holy Spirit and say 'Yes' to God's messenger.
There was much misreporting and rumour in the time of Jesus. He asked, 'Who do men say I am?' We know him to be our saviour who, having been betrayed by a friend, died so that we may live. There were many who were willing to testify against him. 'What for?' we may ask. For healing the sick or making the lame walk and the blind see?
This night we find sense and truth in the child in the manger who shows us that the values of this world are not always good news, and that in him we can find the news that can be trusted. The best news is the babe himself; trust in him leads us to belief in God and in each other. Tonight our God comes to us as good news to be cherished, a God who wishes to be with us not just in happy times but bad ones too. Tonight God bursts in on our world, but not in the way we would want; that would put us in danger of having a childish view of God – a god who shows his love for me by satisfying my immediate needs and wants.
Our God is present to us but not in the way we expect. We, like Mary, can en-flesh Jesus within us by the gift of His Spirit, so that we can find the truth and live it. That is how we as friends and followers of the child Jesus should respond to a society with a diminishing faith; not only belief in God but also trust in each other.
Today then we rejoice because we have news that we can believe and trust again – and that news is that a Child is born, a son is given, and his name is Jesus.