Given at the Christmas Celebration in Westminster Cathedral on 19th December 2023
We have gathered this evening just for one purpose: to herald the birth of Jesus, the Christ. It is his coming that we celebrate with our finest words and best music!
We do so because of the light he brings into the darkness of the world. We rejoice in his coming, in life and in his teaching.
Jesus stands at a pivotal moment in history. His light draws from the ancient wisdom of the Hebrew tradition and is cast forward right into our day. Even when we think this light might be dimming, it is reflected endlessly and can be glimpsed in so many different ways. Many of the principles and values of our times, often proclaimed as ‘secular’, in fact, find shimmer with his light. The respect we hold to be due to every person, for example; the importance we give to human rights; the way we cherish the freedom of the individual; the care we exercise for the hungry and the sick; the longing we feel for forgiveness and peace, all flow from the light of Jesus and the impact of his teaching.
His light is so easily obscured. It is readily forgotten amidst the many glaring lights which impact our lives and fashion our culture. They can blot out the more gentle light of Christ, which nevertheless, continues to emit his warmth and truth.
For Jesus is not one light among many. Rather he stands alone: the true light of the world.
This evening we recognise and affirm again his uniqueness. The child whose birth in a stable, we now celebrate, is the Eternal Word, spoken in the mystery of God, the Word who brings about all created life. For this reason, we bow low and bend our knee before him alone, for there is none like him, none of the same substance, none of whom can be said: Here is divinity in our flesh. He is the child from eternity. Here alone is the one who is both true God and true Man.
Two great truths flow from this, like arc lamps in our inner darkness. From the depth of his divinity, shines forth the full potential and grandeur of our humanity. He tells us that we too have life from the immensity of God and that we too are destined for fulfilment in that same Godhead. Here, in Jesus, truth shines forth with brilliance.
At his birth, the heavens are split open so that we can glimpse their glory and sense the ultimate destiny for which we have been given life!
Now we have a new horizon, a new standard, against which to measure our days and judge our actions. Now we know how our reckoning should be done, what is to shape our lasting ambitions, wherein lies our true home and fulfilment. His is the truth that gives life.
The second truth, as important as the first, is more like a sunlamp in a health club: In him alone do we find healing for our broken selves and our broken world.
We know our need. We know our innermost being is always fragile, in the peace we achieve and in the face of so many uncertainties. We know our world is torn, in terrible ways, by conflicts, fear, anger and revenge. They spill over to terrorise the lives of so many, feeding the roots of future conflict, and adding to the coals of hatred and fear. Yet we long for peace. We cry out and constantly struggle to find solutions for containment and security.
But only one, the bringer of peace, has the power to heal us. For only he has conquered the ultimate darkness of death and has emerged, raised up, as the inextinguishable light of the world!
This victory he wins as God, for no human being can do this. But in his humanity, he shares that victory with us. In his person, he binds together the power of God and the frailty of our humanity. In him, the vulnerable child in our midst, we are healed, for in him we are lifted up.
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav’n to earth1
On this night we can understand again the words of St Paul, echoing down the ages:
‘For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.’ And, wonderfully ‘He (Jesus) has become our wisdom, our virtue, and our holiness and our freedom. If anyone wants to boast, let him boast in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Indeed, as Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’
A happy Christmas to you all. May Christ guide your steps, heal your hearts and give you his lasting peace.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster
1 In the Holy Trinity of Our Lord, by Richard Crashaw