Christmas Eve
St. Andrew's Cathedral

December 24, 2016

~ Download this homily


“Brothers and sisters, hope is real. And it’s a person. It’s not an idea. It’s the person of Jesus Christ. Embrace Jesus, and let him embrace you, and be renewed in hope for yourselves, your families, our country, and our world.”

~ Bishop Gary Gordon


Isn’t that choir something? Wow. I tell you ... When you have that kind of song and music, it just lifts your heart, doesn’t it? It’s so powerful, so beautiful. It’s one of the things that really ushers in this beautiful feast of Christmas. Our hearts are lifted and enlightened. We do that for one another, but in Christmas, we think in a special way of how Christ, by his becoming us in the flesh, has enlightened all of our hearts and given us a profound ability to hope against hope.

We’ve all heard the saying, the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is Jesus Christ. The light is the Saviour. The light is the One who has come to dispel the darkness and to show us a path to enlighten our own journey of life.

This is the Feast of Christmas: a tremendous moment when we recall that God is not so far away. That God is with us, Emmanuel. That God, in taking on flesh, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, has come among us.

But this God, born for us this day, is not in competition with Caesar Augustus, or with Quirinius, the governor. God With Us has come in the most impoverished way, has come in the most humble way, even to sending angels to those who were the outcasts of society, on the margin: the shepherds watching their flocks by night. God comes among us so that we can embrace God without fear. Because the total revelation of Jesus Christ is not complete on Christmas Day, but rather leads perfectly to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. This God With Us is the God of mercy and forgiveness, and He has given us—and this is part of every human person—something built in to our DNA: the gift of hope, real hope. Not just hope that what was on my list for Santa Claus is going to be under the tree when I get home (I added a helicopter on my list … it would just be a lot easier to get around!).

And not just the hope that perhaps I’ll get a raise on January 2. These are all important hopes. They kind of keep us going from day to day. But Jesus Christ has come to give us a real hope that if we follow his path, if we listen to his words in the Gospel, if we are able to forgive and to love our enemies, then there is the possibility of peace on this earth. It’s real. It can happen.

But he’s the only one who has shown us the way. He has come among us in poverty. In littleness. In humility. In gentleness. In meekness. Not in competition with Caesar, but rather, as suffering servant. This is the way peace is possible. 

And so we will leave here tonight with, hopefully, a regenerated grace of hope for life. Life for all. From the beginning of our existence to the end of our existence, life—life for everyone on this beautiful, incredible, mysterious, lovely planet. Life.

My prayer, my hope (I have hopes, too, lots of them) for each of you and your families is that a new spark of hope will come into your hearts to allow your own hands and feet to accompany others. To reach out. To be tenderhearted and merciful. It’s the only path forward for peace. All the other paths, if we remember history, have been tried. And they haven’t worked. But the path of Jesus does.

I am privileged as a Bishop, knowing so many of you, knowing so many people in the Diocese. I get to hear  your stories of hope all the time, and they give me hope, so I want to thank you. Whenever you come up to me, and tell me a story of where God has done something in your life, it just opens up my heart. It really does. Thank you. You’ve all got stories of God’s closeness in your life. That’s why it’s just wonderful that we’re together on this Christmas night.

Let me leave you with a little story of hope.

Once upon a time, I was pastor out in the Fraser Valley, and one of the communities that I looked after was called Skatin. It was a little place about halfway between Pemberton and Harrison Hot Springs, up on the banks of the Lillooet River.

And up there was an incredible church. It was built in the Gothic style by members of the Xa’xtsa, Skatin, and Samahquam Bands between 1895 and 1906, and was initiated by the priests of the Order of Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It’s got three big steeples and it’s gorgeous … in the middle of nowhere!

I used to take care of this little place. I’d drive up the west side of Harrison Lake. It was about a four-hour drive, four-wheeling on a bone-jarring road. I would go up whenever there was a baptism, or a funeral, and I’d go up for Easter.

But at Christmastime, I wanted to get home to have dinner with my brother and my father and my family. So the only way to get there and get back in short order after having celebrated six Masses at St. Mary’s and at St. Theresa’s, and
St. Mary Magdalene, was that I had to get a helicopter.

So that’s what I did! Every year I’d phone around the five or six helicopter companies in the Fraser Valley. “I need a helicopter, and I’ve got to leave at 12:30 on Christmas Day, and I have to be back by 4pm. Can you do it?”

“Who are you? Are you kidding? It’s Christmas Day! We’re not open!”

So I’d phone around, and eventually, somebody put me on to a person who could take me. “Oh, phone this lady. She trains helicopter pilots. Phone her, I think she might do it.”

So I phoned her up. She said, morosely, “Well, yeah, why not. Nothing else to do on Christmas Day. Might as well.”

Boy, this is really cheery, I thought. So I drove down to the Abbotsford Airport.

Now, she’s flying what’s called a Bell 70. Have you ever watched the movie Mash? It’s one of those. Basically, it’s a bubble on a chainsaw. That’s what this helicopter was. It was a bubble on a chainsaw, and as I got on the helicopter, I looked down, and there’s two five-gallon jerry cans strapped to the runners.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“We can’t get back without putting more gas in.”

“Where are we supposed to land?” I asked.

“Oh, I can put this thing down anywhere.

“Oooooookaaaaaay.”

This is a little helicopter. There are two little seats in this bubble, and all you can see is ground. We take off; it was a beautiful day, and we zoom up Harrison Lake, and duck and weave along the Lillooet River. Finally, she said, “Do you know where this place is? There’s nothing up here.”

“Yeah, it’s a beautiful spot. There’s about 100 people who live there. There’s no electricity, no running water, and they are waiting for Christmas Mass.”

Huh? What are we doing? It’s Christmas Day!”

I said, “Just keep flying, we’re fine.”

We come around the corner, and there’s the church. We land right next to it. “Where is everybody?” she asked.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, you have to buzz the village before we say Mass. That’s how everybody knows I’m here. We have to take off again, and go fly around the village.”

We take off and we buzz the village, and sure enough, you see a couple of doors open, and we land. It’s cold up there. The biggest reason we go by helicopter at Christmastime is because the road has six feet of snow, and you can’t get through in a vehicle. You have to fly in.

So, we land. We wait about a half an hour as I get the fire going. She says, “I don’t think anybody’s home.”

I said, “Don’t worry, they’ll be coming. The kids will come first.” Sure enough, all of a sudden there’s a half a dozen kids, then there’s a dozen kids, and we end up with about 20 kids, and they’re all coming over to the helicopter. Of course, we’ve turned off the rotor.

They thought this was so cool. She said, “While we’re waiting for their parents, why don’t I give the kids a ride in the helicopter?”

I said, “I think they would love that.”

So she gets the blades going again. “You have to go out and keep them in the church, and bring out one at a time, and put them in the helicopter and strap them in because I don’t want to shut down the rotor. Whatever you do, make sure you duck, Father!”

So one at a time, ducking, I carry the kid, put them in the helicopter, strap them in, and she takes off—and she flew over each one of those kids’ houses.

I tell you! Those kids were beaming from ear to ear. They ran home right away and they dragged their parents to church! Sometimes, not much changes! Sometimes we go to church, and sometimes we’re dragged! Doesn’t matter, God loves us all, no matter what

We celebrated Mass, and about 3:30pm she said, “We have to get out of here. I don’t fly in the dark.”

Everybody says Merry Christmas. It was a beautiful celebration, the people are happy, the kids are beaming—they’ve never been on a helicopter before. We get back in, strap up, and she turns to me and says, “Wow. I didn’t think it was possible to have Christmas anymore.”

I said, “What do you mean, It wasn’t possible to have Christmas?”

“Well … a month ago my fiancé was killed in a helicopter crash. I had just given up. There was no Christmas. There certainly was no God. But seeing all those kids … I think there might be a God. And looking at all their smiles, I think there is a Christmas. I think I’m hopeful again.”

Brothers and sisters, hope is real. And it’s a person. It’s not an idea. It’s the person of Jesus Christ. Embrace Jesus, and let him embrace you, and be renewed in hope for yourselves, your families, our country, and our world.

Hope is a person, and his name is God With Us.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


 

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