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Christmas, 2018: Coming home

You can’t think of Christmas without thinking of home. We have all experienced at different times in our lives the need just to go home, to stay at home. It’s hard really to describe what home is. The word itself conjures up all sorts of feelings and certainties, all manner of inner warmth and peace. And even if home has been a source of trouble for us, there is no-one who would not have wanted it to be better, to be a true home. The yearnings of our hearts, our sense of identity, the foundation of our love and joy all find their port of harbour in home.

On Christmas night, the Son of God came to make his home with us. By assuming our flesh from the Virgin Mother, he did not just make his home with her and Joseph, but with all of us. He delights to be with the children of men. In the crib, we behold not just a family, or the happenstance and circumstance of the coming and going of this one and that. We behold God as an infant. Pope Benedict XVI famously said that God became an infant so that we human beings could not not love him. He made his home with us as every human being enters a home: by becoming a child. And who can fail to be moved deeply by a newborn babe?

We know that for some thirty years, his home in Nazareth would be where he would learn, yes learn, to be human. Over those years, like you and I, he will have built up a treasury of memories and experiences that warmed his human heart. When Jesus said or heard the word home, all that treasury would come flooding back as it does for the rest of us.

At the same time, from the crib until he appeared in public, Jesus will also have learnt the troubles of the human soul. In Nazareth, I’m sure, there will have been families and homes in trouble for all kinds of reasons, from the Roman occupation to the lack of work, from the early death of a parent to the breakdown of family communication. Sadly, he will have come to know real life, as we sometimes call it rather dubiously, the life where the ten commandments would be routinely broken. As well as the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the chaste heart of Joseph, Jesus will have witnessed at work, during leisure and from the ordinary routine of life the darkness of men’s hearts.

But he accepted that as part of making himself at home among us. When someone wishes their home had been better than it turned out, he can normally only long for it, powerless to bring it about. Not so with Jesus. He knew, and he chose, to follow a path that would really and truly bring about the end of those things which break up homes and break hearts in the process. By his preaching he provided the blueprint for true human happiness; by his miracles, he gave signs that it could be a reality for those who believed in him. But it was by his Cross that he opened the way for the darkness of every heart to be dispelled for ever. The humility of the Crib became the humiliation of the Cross. But just as the Star of Bethlehem illumined the surrounding night, so the Bright Star of the Morning of Resurrection scattered sin and death for ever.

The crib was necessary for Christ to be at home in our humanity. The Cross was necessary for us to be at home in Christ’s divinity. Because the real home, the home of all homes is not the crib, Christ’s crib or anyone’s crib; it is not Nazareth. It is heaven. Jesus became flesh, assumed a home on this earth, so that we would be assumed, through the victory of the Cross, into our final home in heaven.

And so, if I started this homily standing beside the crib, then moved to the altar with the Cross beside it, I now stand beside the tabernacle, the home of the bread of life. The bread we eat at home keeps us at home in this life. The bread we receive here, is the bread which readies us for our eternal home. Bethlehem means house of bread, but the true house of bread is the Risen Body of the Lord. 

Here, I want to recall the prodigal son for a moment. He left home in the bravado of youth to make a life for himself but was consumed by his selfishness. In the depths of distress, the thought of the bread he had at home was the beginning of his return. God the Father gives us the living bread of eternal life, his Son, in the Church, the home of God on earth. But the time will come when the Father will feed us in the mansions of heaven with the life of Christ. In the end, there is no other home, no other life, no other bread. The goal of the Crib is the new and eternal Jerusalem. But it must pass through Calvary.

Jesus was born. That is the Crib. Jesus died. That is the altar and the Cross. Jesus rose and ascended. That is the tabernacle. This same pattern of birth, suffering, death and resurrection is the pattern he offers to every human person. The prodigal son experienced it. Many a known and unknown saint experienced, including probably your own relatives and friends. The invitation of Jesus still remains open to each of us. The attractions of this life are many, wonderful, engaging; many of them are legitimate and enriching. But there has to come a moment when we face the question: is this all there is? Is this all there is to me, to life? Can my dignity truly be measured only by earthly standards, however sophisticated and enthralling they seem – for a time? Is my destiny like that of the butterfly, a short period of vigour and flight, and then nothing?

It is surely a wonderful thing that we are at home, go home or come home to our families for Christmas. No-one can underestimate the renewing power of family love and support. But for those of you here tonight who, for whatever reason, have not yet come home to Christ for Christmas, remember the bread in your Father’s house and let the true hunger of your soul lead you to your true home in the heart of his Church. Receive with renewed strength the two greatest gifts for Christmas which the word itself contains: Christ and the Mass.