Homily – Midnight Mass 2018


At last, all that the past weeks have been building up to has arrived.  We are now in Bethlehem, to celebrate the Birth of Jesus.

We have now got here – but in spite of all our good intentions we probably feel decidedly unprepared.  During Advent, we have probably been all too busy.  The weeks before Christmas are filled with so much activity – so much that tends to crowd out the prayerful, worthy welcome we would like to have ready for the Christ Child.

This sense of busy-ness and confusion we feel almost overcome by is nothing new.  And it is captured superbly in a Christmas painting that I am sure will be familiar to many of you: ‘The Census at Bethlehem’ by Peter Breughel the Elder.  Year by year it features on many Christmas cards: a snowy, wintry scene, very obviously in Flanders by the look of the buildings.  And it is a picture of confusion, even chaos and violence – in which our own frenetic and fragmented lives find a striking echo.

Crowds surge round the door of the Census building. Ordinary, unbeautiful people jostling and pushing each other.  Carts with great barrels of beer are being brought into the town.  Timber  is being stacked up.  Everyone is taking precautions against the bitter cold and snow.  And a ruined castle at one side of the picture is a reminder of the recent Spanish bombardment of the area; the violence of war is an ever-present reality.

And in the midst of all this confusion and upheaval, in the midst of all the people milling about, here are two inconspicuous figures and a donkey – and nobody is taking the slightest notice of them: Joseph, of course, leading the donkey, with Mary on its back, looking straight at us.  There they are, Mary and Joseph, in the midst of all this hubbub – surrounded by a sort of chaos, that echoes so poignantly our own sense of confusion and unreadiness.

But we know that, in spite of everything, in spite of the odds being stacked against them, they have now just one thought in their minds:  the Child Jesus who is about to be born.  So let us pray and hope that, in spite of our own unpreparedness, we now, like Joseph and Mary, may have in our hearts and minds that one thought – Jesus is coming to be with us.