News & Events
Solemn Night of Christmas
St. Andrew's Cathedral
December 24, 2015
"We are called to take care of people. We are called to say ‘yes’. Don’t try to figure it out before it happens. God gives us the grace ... If someone asks, you don’t calculate it: you just give it. The Christian life is really quite simple: to respond, to give, to go. Just get going."
~ Bishop Gary Gordon
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
Well, this is really something. It’s nice that you’re all here. Thank you. We’re getting Christmas off to a good start. It lasts for 12 days, did you know that? Have you heard of that—the 12 days of Christmas? It’s not the 12 days before Christmas, it’s 12 days after Christmas Day. It’s the only feast of the Church year that has 12 days to celebrate. I hope you don’t have to go to work after Boxing Day!
But that is one of the reasons that really shows how important Christmas is. The birth of the Saviour, God made man, born of Mary and the power of the Holy Spirit. Grace has appeared; salvation is given. The light has dawned. No darkness can overcome it. This is our faith. It is beautiful that we are able to celebrate that.
Every year, as I prepare the Scripture readings for Christmas, and then for the Feast of the Holy Family, and then the Feast of Mary, Mother of God on January 1, and then the Feast of the Epiphany, there’s always some word that kind of leaps off the page at me, or some part of the beautiful Christmas story that we’ve just heard from the Gospel of Luke, proclaimed so beautifully by Fr. Dean. For the last three weeks, that word was ‘haste’.
Not hasty, but haste. It appears in the Gospel of Luke two times. First, when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary to announce that she is to be the mother of God. She, of course, is deeply troubled by these words. She ponders, and wonders, “How can this be?” And the angel says, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you, and the power of the Most High will come upon you, and the child that you will conceive will be great, and will be called Son of God.” Immediately after that, the Gospel of Luke tells us Mary goes in haste to the hill country of Judea to see her cousin Elizabeth, to be with her older cousin, who is pregnant with John the Baptist—and the angel’s message to Mary is confirmed.
That’s the first place we find the word ‘haste’. The second one is in today’s Gospel. We’ve got the birth of Jesus; he’s laid in the manger, and all of a sudden the angels appear to the shepherds. They’re watching their flocks by night, and when they see the angels, they are terrified, yet they receive this news of great joy for all the people. They say, “we’ve got to go and see what is going on!” The Gospel tells us they got up and went in haste, to see, and to be confirmed in the announcement of the angel: The Saviour is born for you.
This word ‘haste’—I like it. It’s not that I always do everything really fast (though I do!). There is something about this word and about the people who receive a message from an angel. They’re overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. They have to get going. The grace of God coming into the heart of Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the announcement of the angels to the shepherds who hear this good news—it moves them to action. They cannot stop themselves, and they immediately go in haste.
Our Holy Father has set out this year as a Jubilee Year of Mercy. We see that Jesus Christ is the face of mercy, that God has sent His Son to show us mercy, forgiveness, salvation, healing and compassion. The Holy Father is urging the world, urging the Church, to get going. There’s no time for dillydallying. The urgency of the proclamation of mercy and forgiveness in the midst of the enormity of the darkness on the earth—the darkness for the environment, and the darkness facing whole nations consumed by war and drought and suffering; such incredible darkness—can only become changed, or be overcome, by the power of God’s mercy. And so we are all invited, as the Church, to get going, to literally become instruments of mercy.
It might not even be too far from home: to seek forgiveness within our families. To be instruments of compassion. It may be why at Christmas we celebrate the birth of a child. In this Child, we see the proclamation of the Father’s tenderness, and His mercy. Who doesn’t smile when someone brings a baby into the room? People come over and say, “Can I hold your baby?” It just automatically changes the interior disposition of a person’s heart and soul. Jesus comes as a child, with no power. He comes in complete humility, absolutely dependent like every child.
And so, in this Feast of Christmas, we are invited to behold mercy, which is given to us in an infant. It says something very powerful about how important tenderness is, especially in this age. It’s a rough world. It is a litigious world. It’s a world that is consumed with rigid justice, but with very little mercy or tenderness. The Holy Father is inviting us to mercy, and to tenderness. To tenderheartedness for one another, for our family, for the world.
Let me end with a little Christmas story. It’s kind of a tender story. It happened about four years ago, when I was the bishop of the Yukon. By the way, they got a replacement, thanks be to God. I am so grateful that they don’t have to wait six years like last time. They’ve got a good man to be their new bishop. He spent two days with me, so I could sort of brief him. I told him it was the most amazing place, with the most amazing people, And that there’s more people in one city block in Toronto, than in the whole Diocese of Whitehorse!
Every year at Christmas, I used to travel about 2,500 km on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Santa Claus and I were kind of doing the ‘night ride’. I would go to Telegraph Creek and Dease Lake and Iskut. Has anybody ever been to Telegraph Creek? Then you know what I’m talking about! That road will make you a believer in God, won’t it? There are no atheists living in Telegraph Creek!
I would never send anybody that came to help me to these places, because I was terrified they would never come back, and I loved going into Telegraph Creek and Dease Lake and Iskut on Christmas Eve. And then on the way home on Christmas Day, I would always stop in a place called Good Hope Lake.
Anybody been to Good Hope Lake? Yes, you’ve been there! Good Hope Lake. There was one family there, and they were a Catholic family, and I used to stop by on Christmas Day and celebrate Mass in their home, and then get back to Whitehorse about 8 PM or so.
On Thanksgiving Day that year I was headed to that area to do a funeral, so I stopped in to see the family. The husband says, “Bishop, are you coming at Christmas like you did last year?” I said, “I sure am; I’ll be there about noon on Christmas Day.” He said, “That’s great. You know, my wife is pregnant.” I said,”I noticed that; it’s good!” He said,”You know, Bishop, she’s due on Boxing Day.”
I said, “That’s great, it’s the Feast of St. Stephen. If it’s a boy, you can call him Stephen.” He said, “Well, we’re not sure, but if it’s a boy, we will call him Stephen.” Then he said “I have to stay home to look after the other eight children, so she’s going to take the bus [to Whitehorse] from Highway 37 Junction.” I said, “Oh, on Christmas Day, really?” Then I thought about it, and I said,”You know if I am coming on Christmas Day, I could give her a ride to Whitehorse.”
He gratefully accepted my offer. “That would be really nice of you, Bishop.”
I got back home to Whitehorse, and I told Sr. Edith and Sr. Karen (Sr. Karen is a nurse), “I’m going to be giving Arlaine a ride to Whitehorse on Christmas Day.”
Sr. Karen, looking slightly alarmed, said, “How many children do they have?”
I said, “I think this is going to be number nine.”
“Oh, Bishop. When’s the baby due?”
“They told me Boxing Day,” I said.
“Oh ... Bishop.” Then Sr. Karen gave me the medical reality of the fact that if I hit a big bump, that baby was going to be delivered. Sr. Karen said, “Bishop, I hope you’re prepared. Child number nine, they’re going to come fast.”
I said, “Well, there’s nothing I can do now. I’ve committed myself. I’ll be prepared!”
I got to the house on Christmas Day, and we celebrated Mass, and we had some turkey, and then … “Let’s get going!” and we are off to Whitehorse.
You can see I had a fair amount of anxiety, and a little bit of apprehension about what could possibly take place on the Alaska Highway!
So I asked her, “Arlaine, are we prepared?”
“... Well ... I’ve got all my stuff, Bishop.”
“I mean, what happens if you decide to have this baby on the Alaska Highway?” You know, it’s 600 km from Good Hope Lake to Whitehorse. It’s a long way.
She said, “Oh, well, don’t worry Bishop, I’ve got it all in hand.”
I said, “Well, I don’t!”
So we got going. Now, the north end of the Stewart–Cassiar Highway is basically like a roller coaster with really bad potholes. We hit one. Arlaine said, “You know, Bishop, I have to tell you, you’re really going to have to take your foot off the gas pedal when we hit those bumps. Those big bumps aren’t going to be good for this baby.”
“I think I’ve got what you mean, Arlaine,” I responded. We drove even slower. We didn’t want to hit any big bumps, and I certainly did not want to deliver a baby on the Alaska Highway. By the grace of God, we got to Whitehorse about 9 PM. I dropped her off at the home where she was staying, and the next day she had a beautiful little baby boy. It was wonderful.
The reason I tell you that story is this: we are called to take care of people. We are called to say ‘yes’. Don’t try to figure it out before it happens. God gives us the grace. When God sent His son Jesus to the world, given for the life of the world, there were no conditions. There were no ‘maybes’ or ‘what ifs’ or ‘buts’. God’s love came to us in Jesus Christ, and He asks the whole Church to do the same thing. To go in haste, but slowing down for the bumps on the road of life. If someone asks, you don’t calculate it: you just give it. The Christian life is really quite simple: to respond, to give, to go. Just get going.
The world is asking in a big way, and we are invited to respond. There may be anxiety, and there may be pondering, and there may be problems, and you may not even know what you are getting in to. But this is what God has given us in His son Jesus; a tenderheartedness to respond to every need, not even counting the cost, but simply giving. God doesn’t usually call the qualified: God qualifies the called.
It’s a wonderful life. Follow Jesus. Be tenderhearted and merciful. This is good news. It makes a difference. It brings new life. It’s Christmas. And for the Christian people of God, it’s Christmas every day.
It is Christmas every day. To bring to birth Jesus, mercy, and tenderness, for all whom we meet, and for our world.