30th December, 2020

Fr Gabriel's Homily for Christmas Night

Ampleforth Abbey


25 DECEMBER 2020

Thank you to all of you for joining us for this Mass of the night of Christmas. On behalf of Fr Abbot and all the community I assure you of our prayers for you all, those of you participating in this Mass, by means of video or audio streaming, your families and your friends. I am Fr Gabriel, coming in these days to the end of my time as Prior Administrator of the Abbey and we have a bidding prayer tonight for the coming election for Abbot. We pray tonight for a joyful and holy celebration of the birth of Christ, the Holy Child, born for us this night to save us from our sins, from our many fears and worries, from death; and born this night to unite us to himself.

Our readings tonight began with the great promise to the people of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah: ‘You have made their gladness greater, / you have made their joy increase; / they rejoice in your presence’. They rejoice in your presence.

In his homily at Mass on Wednesday morning, Fr Richard noted that in a recent survey comparatively few registered any anticipation about the religious dimension of Christmas; hardly sadly a surprise. But, and this comforted Fr Richard, most looked forward to the family dimension and a goodly number to the exchange of presents. This is ‘presents’ in the sense of gifts, wrapping paper, labels etc but the gift of God, as in the reading from Isaiah, is his ‘presence’, that is his being ‘with us’. Presence as opposed to presents; ok same sound but different spelling and different if related meaning.

Now in fact I am not so sure that this is really so strange to us. It may be nice in a way to receive an extravagant and desirable gift, better still if we have been longing to possess just such a thing. But such a thing can be given without love, indeed as an excuse and sop to the conscience for a lack of love and therefore ultimately somewhat lacking, to say the least. A present is really rather a hollow and ultimately disappointing thing if it is given instead of, rather than because of, the presence of love.

What God seeks to give us this Christmas is his love and his love is himself, born in a fragile and vulnerable human life, given for us and to us. It is the best thing. St Paul put it thus in tonight’s second reading from his letter to Titus: ‘we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus’. It made the angels sing in today’s gospel, to the initial terror of the shepherds: ‘Glory to God in the highest’. And why? because ‘today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’.

Goodness knows, there may seem little comfort, joy, peace, reassurance, optimism, hope in lockdown Brexit Britain. I am not seeking to make any political point, but rather to ask what is the foundation of our hope, for what do we wait in hope? It is to a secure hope, the gift to us at Christmas, of the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus.

How do we experience this? May it be in this Mass the experience of a prayerful moment, the stillness in the hectic busyness of life. Such moments are there to be found even if only in this life, rather passing and fleeting, the moment in and out of time, a brief beam of winter sunlight. It is a gift of wonder, of peace and stillness, of quiet joy, a moment to treasure in the heart, as for the shepherds who when they arrive at the manger, where the Christ Child is laid, look, contemplate, and praise God for all that they hear and see.

And as for Our Lady, ‘Mary treasures all these things’ and ‘ponders them in her heart’. If we, like her, take the moment to treasure all these things and to ponder them in our hearts, then we too will know the gift of God, his wonderful love, in which we are created and made new, and which is given to us this night.

A last word to those joining us. I wish to express thanks to those of you who, rather wonderfully really, have been joining us faithfully, albeit unseen and unheard in these past months, in fact for the last nine months. Thank you too for your messages of encouragement and for the reminder of your presence, unseen but very real in the body of Christ. For he came to make us all one and you remind us of that wonderful and great truth, upon which we are glad to place our hope this night.