This is the text of Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s Christmas homily, Cathedral of St Stephen, 2019
Australia goes up in flames, houses and even towns are destroyed, cities are shrouded in smoke and lives are lost, nine at the last count. For them we pray this morning. The drought goes on and on, working its own destruction on the land, on the animals and in human lives – individuals, families, communities for whom we also pray. When will it ever end? We ask as we come to Christmas and look to the New Year.
Better perhaps just to cancel Christmas this year – a bit like the Prime Minister’s holiday which he cancelled after howls of protest. “This is no time for a Hawaiian holiday”, the protesters cried; and back Mr Morrison came from a family break. Voices may well cry now, “Cancel Christmas! This is no time for songs of joy and the feasting that greets the child’s birth”. But still we sing and we celebrate the feast, even in the midst of all the horror and all the sorrow. Not that this is any kind of denial or escapism. Here we go into the horror and the sorrow … and then beyond it to see the wonder and the joy that nothing and no-one can destroy. Seeing that, we come to the hope that Christmas offers, the hope that there is something more than the horror and the sorrow, something more than the destruction of drought and fire. This is the true hope born always and only out of what seems hopeless. It’s the hope that’s born of God.
That hope isn’t fantasy or some mirage: it takes flesh in a newborn baby … and there’s nothing more immediate and more concrete than that. The child born of Mary: he is the God-sent rain that quenches every fire – the fire of our heart, the fire in our lives, in our families, in our Church, the fires consuming our land. So many fires – and he is the rain from heaven that extinguishes them all. Through Advent we sang the words of Scripture: “Drop down dew, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One”. Well, now our prayer is answered as the baby is born. He is the gentle rain from above that not only quenches the fires but also softens the earth, gives it life, brings all drought to an end. Not just the drought of the land but also the human drought that turns the heart to a desert, the heart of flesh becoming a heart of stone (cf Ezek 36:26).
This is what Pope Francis says of care for our common home, the planet: the earth turns to a desert because the human heart has turned to a desert first. If we want to care for our common home as we must, if we want the desert to turn to a garden as God intended, then our heart must turn to a garden first. If our heart remains a desert, so too will the earth. But the newborn child comes as God’s saving rain upon the earth, and all that is barren becomes fertile again. “Flowers appear on the earth, the time for singing has come and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land; the fig-tree puts forth its fruit and the vines are all in blossom”, as the Song of Songs has it (2:12-13a). Life triumphs over death.
The Pope calls it “the revolution of tenderness”. It happens when God comes among us, becomes one of us, as a small and helpless baby. A retired medico once said to me: “I’ve helped deliver hundreds of babies, but you never get used to the wonder of birth, the miracle that happens, the gift of the newborn child”. That same sense of wonder touches us here as, with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, we gaze upon the newborn child who is God-with-us, the infinite tenderness of God. We sense the wonder whenever we see a crib in its simplicity or sing the carols in their beauty, as we do today. However parched our heart may be, whatever the horrors and the sorrows, a sense of wonder stirs within us, the dry heart is moved … because the God who comes to us small and helpless touches each of us at the point where we are small and helpless. At that dark point where we fear rejection, even annihilation, we are touched by an endless love; we are embraced forever. Once we know that, joy becomes possible – not just fun or even happiness, both of which have their place, but the joy which is deeper and more enduring.
That’s what Christmas announces in all its gentleness and power – which is why it never fails to stir a sense of wonder in even the driest heart. And that’s why this year and whenever, we don’t cancel Christmas but allow the wonder of the child to rise beyond all the weariness and all the woes as once again we feast around the newborn saviour and sing the songs that never die.