In the middle of the night, we gather to celebrate the birth of the child, our child. And rightly so, because the child is always born in the darkness, even at the heart of darkness. We don’t know exactly at what time Jesus was born, but tradition has it that it was during the night and certainly the shepherds, to whom the angels appear, are out in the fields at night-time.
But the darkness is not just physical. There is another darkness in which Jesus is born. We see that other darkness when a young man walks into a primary school and shoots dead in the most senseless and brutal way twenty children, six of their teachers and then finally himself. This is the darkness of the demonic which always lurks but which bursts from its hiding-place in a moment like the Newtown massacre.
What we saw there is the ultimate form of child abuse. But there are others, and in the Church we have known them only too well, as evil has stood before us unmasked, leaving us all horrified and feeling more than ever the need for a Saviour. At times the darkness of child abuse has threatened to extinguish the light without which the Church would become a decaying corpse, not the Body of Christ radiant with the life that is bigger than death. But at the heart of that darkness too the child is born.
The darkness means fear; it means mercilessness; it means violence; it means despair. And how grievously a darkened world is marked by them all. Yet once the child is born, things change and they change for ever. Love is born at the heart of fear; mercy at the heart of mercilessness; peace at the heart of violence; hope at the heart of despair. Fear, mercilessness, violence and despair still have their say, and tragically so. But they don’t have the last word. The last word belongs to the newborn child, and he speaks for ever of love, mercy, peace and hope.
Jesus not only speaks of these things which make us truly human: he is these things. Love, mercy, peace and hope take flesh in him who reveals to the world what it means to be human. They take flesh in the one in whom the demonic is trumped by the divine.
It can seem absurd to make such claims about a newborn child. Hundreds of thousands are born each day. Jesus is just another baby, tiny and helpless like any newborn child. That is true, but it’s not the whole truth. Because from this child there explodes a whole new world of love, mercy, peace and hope – a new light which no darkness can dispel.
Scientists tell us that it was the Big Bang which brought the cosmos into being. There was no light; there was no time; there was no life as we know it. There was only an infinitesimally small and dense particle of matter. In the moment of the Big Bang at the Creator’s word, that particle explodes and billions of galaxies soar from the tiny particle, expanding to a vastness we can scarcely comprehend. Light appears in the darkness, and with it the possibility of life; time emerges from eternity, and with it the possibility of death.
The cosmos was born of a Big Bang which was physical. A new cosmos is born of the Big Bang which is the birth of Jesus Christ. The birth itself was intensely physical as birth always is, but it was charged with an immeasurable spiritual density. In the tiny child, there is contained an infinite compression of love, mercy, peace and hope; and that infinity has never ceased to expand in a cosmos both human and divine, a cosmos which, unlike the physical universe, will never come to an end.
That’s why here in the Cathedral tonight, huddled like the shepherds in the darkness, we hear a song that comes from elsewhere, the song of the new cosmos, the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, glory to the Creator, and on earth love, mercy, peace and hope to all who come looking for the newborn child”. That song becomes ours as we find our way through the darkness to the child whose dominion is infinitely wide “in a peace that has no end”. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
December 25, 2012