Homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore and Primate of All Ireland, for Christmas Eve 2019 Midnight Mass, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh:
“Human trafficking and other forms of exploitation remind us that evil continues to profit from the misfortune and misery of our fellow human beings” – Archbishop Martin
Four weeks ago a group of Austrian scouts visited Manger Square in Bethlehem – the place where Jesus was born. They lit a candle there and prayed for peace, and then, as they traveled home, they brought the ‘peace light’ with them, passing it on from country to country, from scout troop to scout troop. According to Google maps, it is 3,489 miles from Bethlehem to Armagh but still, on Sunday last, the Armagh scouts were able to receive the Bethlehem ‘peace light’ and carry it here into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
Long ago Isaiah the prophet wrote about the coming of the Messiah: ‘The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who lived in the land of deep shadow a light has shone’. You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase’ (Isaiah 9:2).
We gather together here on this Holy Night to celebrate that Jesus Christ our Saviour is born. It may be the darkest time of the year, but He is the Light that darkness cannot overpower; He is Heavenly Peace.
Like the scouts, we can be all be bearers of the light of Christ to others – and there is such a need for the light of Christ to enter into the darkness of our troubled world. Sadly, war and violence rage on in many parts of the world – from Afghanistan to Yemen, from Mexico to Syria and Somalia. Millions of families, including many of our Christian brothers and sisters, are being displaced because of persecution and oppression. Human trafficking and other forms of exploitation remind us that evil continues to profit from the misfortune and misery of our fellow human beings. In all this darkness – where can the light of Christ be found?
It shines out when kindness and generosity refuse to be mastered by darkness and despair; it inspires good people to continue working for lasting peace and reconciliation here in Ireland; it motivates children and young people to raise awareness of the climate crisis by challenging themselves and others to avoid waste and the ‘throwaway culture’. The light of Christ enkindles a spirit of generosity in families who fill shoeboxes and food hampers for the needy and homeless; it emboldens us to be ‘pro-life’ despite a creeping culture of choosing death; it enlightens whole communities to welcome and find homes for migrants and refugees in their midst; it arouses charity in the form of thousands of gifts of goats and chicks and trees and school lunches for those less fortunate in faraway places.
The light of Christ shines in you every time you visit someone who is sick or recently bereaved, or when you call on an elderly or lonely neighbor; it radiates when you exchange a hug of friendship, or simply text or phone someone to say: ‘I miss you’, ‘I love you’, ‘Thank you’, ‘I am sorry’, ‘Let’s start over’. The light of Christ draws you away from the madness of the Christmas rush, to a quiet place to pray – perhaps in front of the Christmas crib – and there it moves you in gratitude to God for the gift of life, and love and friendship and food and warmth and health and all the other good things which we so easily take for granted.
I pray this Christmas night that the light of Christ will enlighten your homes and shine out in you and with you in the coming days.
The angel said to the shepherds: ‘Do not be afraid, I bring you news of great joy. Today is born for you in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:10-11).
In the name of Christ – Light in the darkness, and Prince of Peace – I pray that we will all have the courage to be bearers of the light, spreading the light and peace and joy of Christ’s birth from heart to heart, from person to person in our homes, communities, and world this Christmas.
The Bethlehem Peace Light Prayer
Light of Bethlehem: burn brightly in our hearts this Christmas;
Light of Peace: heal the bitter wounds in our community; show us the path of forgiveness and love;
Light of Joy: fill our homes with happiness – cast out the darkness of conflict or worry;
Light of Comfort: strengthen the sick, the needy, refugees and prisoners and all those who cannot be at home on Christmas Day;
Light of Hope: guide our way forward as we begin a New Year;
Light of the World: teach us to love you more and more each day;
Light of Bethlehem: shine out in our lives this Christmas and always. Amen.