Christmas Midnight Mass

24 December 2023

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Christmas Midnight Mass


[Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-16]

As the feast of Christmas is celebrated this year, much of the world’s attention is directed to that place where the birth of Jesus occurred – the city of Bethlehem. The Holy Land finds itself in a time of war, and news out of Bethlehem is anything but good; many of the usual public Christmas celebrations there have even been cancelled.

At the same time as such sad and depressing reports reach us through secular media, we listen tonight to an announcement from the Gospel of good and hopeful news. It also comes to us out of Bethlehem, but from centuries ago: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, …” This report from Saint Luke is made not in the context of war but concord, and points the way to real and everlasting peace, for which every one of every age longs, especially now. So, let’s pay close attention to it.

History records that the birth of our Lord occurred in the time of Caesar Augustus, by whose reign the entire Roman empire was at peace. The angelic announcement of the Nativity also speaks of “peace on earth”. But the peace occasioned by Caesar and that which came with the birth of Jesus are two very different realities.

When Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, the peace experienced throughout the empire was political in nature; it was merely the absence of war. The peace heralded by the birth of our Lord is of an entirely different order. It is God’s peace, the peace that reigns in heaven and that, in Christ, has descended to earth. It is a reality of the heart, a deep inner tranquility, harmony, and calm that arise from the knowledge that God is with us, our sins are forgiven, and we need have no fear.

While these two experiences of peace differ from each other, they are not unrelated. Conflicts between peoples arise from conflicted hearts. When interior peace is replaced by hatred, bitterness, and guilt, peaceful relations with others are soon fractured. The cry for peace echoes throughout the world today as a plea for the cessation of war. That is understandable and right. But the announcement of the birth of Christ tells us it is insufficient. What is needed is God’s peace, a deep and permanent healing of hearts and minds. Only in this way will people find the way back to one another.

Here we see why the announcement of the Christmas message is so very urgent, and not only for people in the grip of war. Conflict is a stranger to none of us. We are seeing it in polarized societies, marginalized populations, and broken relationships. In this context, our cry for peace is an entreaty for reconciliation. Again, this can only become a reality when the peace we seek is that given in the person of Jesus Christ.

Saint Paul tells us why. In Jesus, he says, “the grace of God has appeared.” In other words, Jesus is God Incarnate, God become one of us, God with us. Jesus alone can lead us to true peace because he is our peace. In Jesus Christ, the Son of God born of Mary, heaven and earth unite. In him, God and humanity are reconciled. This makes Jesus the way for all people to be united with both God and one another and thus know real peace.

So how do we respond to this announcement? When news of war fills the headlines, much of the world makes haste to find solutions. That “haste” often will take the form of diplomatic and political activity, public manifestations, and media commentary. The Christmas headline announces not war but peace, and it likewise prompts us to hurry, but the haste we make in response is of a different sort. We hurriedly seek not multiple solutions of our own making but the one solution of God’s making. Ours is to be the haste of the shepherds, who hurried to find Jesus.  They were impelled not by anxiety and fear but hope and joy, in the knowledge that real peace would finally be found in the child born of Mary. That same hope and joy now move us to find Jesus, as we remember that he, the Saviour, who first appeared in Bethlehem, remains with us now as our peace.

Where does our search for the Lord take us? Today we find Jesus not in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, but in the mass, veiled in the mystery of the Eucharist. Here at mass, we not only find but also receive him. The very same Jesus born of Mary makes himself present in every mass, no longer seeking room in an inn but a dwelling in our hearts, where he longs to be the peace we seek.

In this special mass of Christmas, where Jesus yet again is present to meet us, let us pray intensely to him that he, who was born for us in the Holy Land, will give to that region, and to all areas ravaged by war, the peace he alone can fashion. We pray also for ourselves and our families, and for people everywhere, who likewise cry out for God’s peace. By the grace of this sacrament, may hearts everywhere be healed by the mercy of Jesus Christ, so that true and lasting peace among peoples will become a reality in our day.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith

Saint Joseph Basilica

December 25th, 2023