Christmas Homily

posted 17 Jan 2020, 06:13 by Parish Office

Homily for Christmas 2019

[Inspiration taken from Pope Benedict’s Christmas Homily for 2007]


All kneel at the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate...”


I’ve been living in Hanley now for almost three and a half years.  After arriving here in this parish, a friend of mine came to visit from Gloucester.  One of the things he commented on about Hanley in general was not only that the cinema was a lot cheaper than the one he goes to down south, but also that Hanley in general looked rather run down.  But over the last three years or so, things seem to be on the up.  Not only have we had work done on the church and centre, but also it’s as if other people in the area have also had the same idea.  Some of the houses in the area have undergone various renovations, we’ve got new houses being built, and one building that has been unused for quite a while is now in the final stages of being renewed inside and out so that it can be rented out as flats.  Hanley seems to be on the up!


What’s that got to do with Christmas?  Well, in some paintings from the Middles Ages and later, the stable at Bethlehem looks more like a crumbling palace.  Everything is falling down.  You can imagine what it was like in its heyday, but now the palace has actually become a stable.  Whilst this isn’t exactly what the stable looked like at Bethlehem – it was actually a cave – the scene is all rather symbolic.  God had promised to King David that his reign would last forever, but at the moment, David’s throne stands empty.  Others rule in his place.  Joseph, who is a descendant of King David, works as a carpenter – the descendant of the king is a poor tradesman and the palace, so to speak, has become the dwelling of a poor family.


Is this what Hanley is like?  It might represent the way things have gone in the recent past for Stoke City.  A year or two ago I was looking through different bits of paper in the parish office, and I came across a letter written by Fr Peter Weatherby.  A priest friend of his from somewhere down south was asking for a bit of financial help for his parish.  Fr Peter wrote back an extremely humorous response, saying that, yes, up here in Stoke-on-Trent, all the mines are closed, the pottery industry is only a small fraction of what it once was, people have lost their jobs etc. etc., but yes, of course we will help your rolling-in-riches, leafy suburban parish.  (I’m not exactly sure what he really chose to do in the end.)  It’s sometimes said that the people in Stoke are good and friendly.  Perhaps we need to think what are actually true riches:  money, or the way we treat people and come to help those in need?


Christ comes to renew a broken world.  His love and His light make the world a better place to live in.  If someone were to ask you what people mean by the Christmas spirit, what would you respond?  Perhaps you might come up with answers like:  a time for giving, time for family, helping those in need, those who are lonely.  Just think of the carol Good King Wenceslaus:  it’s about how a king with all his riches, sees a poor man going about in the snow.  He decides to help him have a good Christmas as well.  And the important thing is that he doesn’t just get someone to send him a bit of money and tell him it’s from the king, or a Christmas dinner, but he actually goes and spends time with him as well.  “Ye who now shall bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”


At the first Christmas, we see Christ and his family as outsiders, as people who are poor and rejected.  There is no room at the inn.  And so, in a humble cave, that is where God finds a place.  The humble, warm and loving hearts of Our Lady and St Joseph welcome the Christ-child into the world.  The angels announce the birth of the Saviour, and draw the shepherds to the manger.  A sign in the heavens brings the wise men.  Christ builds up a new community, where the warmth of the love of God melts the chill of hearts that are frozen and have become incapable of loving.  The stable becomes a palace.  The cave becomes the throne-room of Almighty God.  Human relationships become human once again.  It’s a bit like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where a world which is used to it being always winter and never Christmas, with the coming of Aslan, sees the snow begin to melt, the witch begins to lose her power, and Father Christmas is allowed to visit once more.


I mentioned earlier that, in some ways, Hanley seems to be on the up, at least in terms of renovation of buildings and the construction of new houses.  But for there to be any true and good rebuilding, it has to flow from here, from the altar.  The Christ-child has to be at the centre.  The “Christmas spirit” has to flow from here and spread, and warm up our families, our homes, our neighbourhood, our country, our world.


I wish you all a happy Christmas.  May the blessings of Christmas 2019 be  life-changing and stay with you long into the New Year.