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Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christ leads us to heaven

Here is the text of my sermon for the Christmas Masses.

The Lord said to me “You are my Son” this day have I begotten You. (Ps 2.7)

The lovely traditional carol with which we began our vigil for Christmas, “Once in royal David’s city” sings our faith in the mystery of this great feast day:
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all.
The eternal Word of God, born of the Father before time began, is now born in human flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who herself was chosen by God and preserved free from original sin to be His immaculate Mother.
The carols also tell us the purpose for which Our Lord descended in humility to be with us in human form:
And our eyes at last shall see him
through his own redeeming love,
for that child so dear and gentle
is our Lord in heaven above;
and he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.
“His children” refers to all of us. In the presence of the Most High God, we are all children and do well to come before him in humility. “The place where he is gone” is, of course, heaven, the place from which He came. Forty days after His resurrection, on the day we celebrate as the feast of the Ascension, Christ returned to heaven, being visibly taken from the sight of the apostles.

There, in heaven, he eternally intercedes for us. The sacrifice of which he first made offering at the Last Supper, and consummated with His death on the Cross, is a prayer that never ends. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that prayer, that sacrifice, is made present on our altar through the sacred ritual offered at the hands of the priest who shares sacramentally in the ministerial priesthood of Christ, the great High Priest.

Put simply, the purpose of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas is to enable us to go to heaven. That is also the purpose of our lives, the reason we are put here. God made us to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him for ever in the next.

We do well, therefore to consider what heaven is. In a world which routinely misunderstands our faith at best and ridicules or blasphemes it at worst, we can easily have our idea of heaven obscured or trivialised. This is a great evil because it impugns one of the most important motives for living a good and holy life and exercising charity to our neighbour – even towards our enemies as Christ taught us.

Here on earth, one of the purest joys that we can experience is to see the happiness of someone that we love. This is the reason that we give gifts to each other – to make someone happy and to enjoy their happiness. In heaven, the joy of the saints is to rejoice in the perfect goodness, beauty and perfection of almighty God, to experience his joy which is infinite and overflowing – the sentence Our Lord told us would be uttered to the blessed at the last judgement is “Come, you blessed of my Father. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matt 25.21)

St Alphonsus therefore says
“Among all the acts of love to God, there is no act of love more perfect than taking delight in the infinite happiness which God enjoys. This is certainly the continual exercise of the blessed in heaven; so that he who often rejoices in the happiness of God begins in this life to do that which he hopes to do in heaven through all eternity.”
Such a prayer is the prayer of adoration from which all our other prayers properly flow. In this life, since we do not have the certainty which the saints have, of never losing the love of God, such adoration is mingled with a holy fear. We are aware of our weakness and the possibility of losing God’s grace. We are also aware of sins unexpiated which make us unworthy to be in His presence.

Our life’s work is to persevere in the grace of God, humbly asking Him to have mercy on us, to assist us to avoid sin, conquer temptation, do penance, and show generous charity to our neighbour. The beautiful feast of Christmas teaches us that there is nothing that God will not do to assist us and to bring us to heaven. He even came down from heaven to be a little child, to teach us, to found a Church to bring us the sacraments, to give himself to us in the Holy Eucharist, to suffer and die for us, and to ascend again to heaven so that we have a sure path to eternal happiness.

The salutation “Happy Christmas” is therefore filled with a great significance. We wish one another the joy of a blessed life in following Our Lord here on earth and the joy of eternal blessedness in that heaven which He came to win for us.
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