FERVERINO FOR CHRISTMAS CONCERT 2019
St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
– Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene I
So says Portia, the beautiful heiress of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. She speaks a great truth: good deeds – and the intentions and agents behind them – don’t just get done and then fade away. A light doesn’t shine only for itself. It shines out, piercing the darkness, its radiance reaching out to all it can, lighting the way for others. The same can be said, Shakespeare suggests, of good deeds. Each act of kindness ripples outwards, changing the one who does it, the ones it immediately affects, the ones they in turn influence, and the whole temper of the community. A good deed done, proclaims goodness out loud, and shapes us within. It cannot be hidden under a bushel, but radiates outwards, challenging all to meet its gaze (cf. Mt 5:15).
Christmas is an example of such a moving act of goodness. God becomes a human being, a vulnerable newborn baby, born into poverty and persecution. God does this, not for the heck of it, but out of infinite love – His love for us. Such an act shines out: a star and angels, the radiance of heaven, are seen by kings and peasants (Mt 2:1-12; Lk 2:13-20). “By the tender mercy of God the dawn from on high will break upon us,” the Scriptures promised, “to give light to those living in darkness and the shadow of death, and guide us into the way of peace.” (Isa 9:2; Mt 4:16; Lk 1:79; 2:32) This newborn Babe is “light the darkness could not overcome… the true light, that enlightens everyone” (Jn 1:5,9; 3:19-21). When later He is transfigured, so that “His face shone like the sun and His clothes became dazzling white” (Mt 17:1-8 etc), it was no once-off event: Jesus is always the Light of the world (Jn 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-6,46) and His goodness cannot be hidden.
In Christ God takes upon Himself our humanity without in any way diminishing His divinity. He answers all those who hate the material order or the immaterial, our bodily life or spiritual. Both are inherently good, good enough for God to inhabit and redeem. Both are realms of His healing action, mending broken bodies and even resurrecting them, restoring sin-damaged souls to the image of God. As well as being healed, both dimensions are elevated, even beyond our unfallen state: for by becoming one of us, Christ enables us to become like Him, to be ‘divinised’, adopted into God’s family, the communion of saints.
Such talk might seem overblown, even vain. But that’s what Christmas says. We are precious, irreplaceable, made for greatness. Each one matters so much, God would become one of us – for our sake! So powerful is that message that angels break into song, leaders offer gifts, workers bring their sheep. All creation joins the celebration of this act of love. Adam and Eve and all souls in Limbo strain at their forthcoming release. Ox and ass guard the crib. Even the shepherds’ fields and heaven’s lights play their part. And tonight, we too join the angels, rejoicing for a world forever changed, celebrating that great act of kindness which has rippled throughout all history.
When I launched our national competition for new young composers, hoping in some small way to encourage new Australian contributions to the Church’s great cultural patrimony, it was in keeping with the long tradition. The text for this year was the poem Animal Nativity, written by the great Australian poet, Les Murray, whose recent passing we mourn. We were fortunate tonight to hear the winning composition by Timothy Mallis, and I thank the judges and performers for bringing it to us.
Murray loved the Australian bush and Animal Nativity suggests that the ripples of Christmas were felt by all creation, not just the human bits. In an age so conscious of climate and ecology, at a time smelling of the dryness and fire in our land, Murray’s poem reminds us of the place of goats and fish, trees and valleys, swallows and cattle – even spiders – in our common home the earth, that material order so loved by God He united Himself to it in the Incarnation. All gather round this child, even dogs our poem suggests, “agog at a crux of presence” emanating from the Christ-child.
It’s news Christians never tire of telling. It’s what enthuses so much good they do in families, parishes, schools, healthcare, welfare, missions. It drives our efforts to support farmers and all affected by drought. It inspires our brave firefighters and our care for those struggling after personal disaster. The Christmas Babe speaks to every human need because He came for every human person.
At a recent kindergarten visit a child offered me a picture with the words ‘Choose kindness’ coloured in. I asked her what kindness meant and she told me “I don’t know, but it looks good coloured in!” She was right of course: kindness does look good coloured in. Christmas colours it for all humanity, so it lights up the world, and inspires us to join in God’s great colouring-in project.
Yet even at the first Christmas, not everyone wanted to hear that message, or join in God’s artistry. Darkness sought to snuff out the Light. So threatened was Herod by the message of human dignity and redemption, he sought to kill the Child. And the slaughter of innocents continues to this day: unborn innocents, now more endangered than ever in this state of New South Wales; newborn innocents, handicapped and unwanted; oppressed innocents, including persecuted Christians, detained refugees, the falsely imprisoned; elderly innocents, in substandard aged care and increasingly threatened with euthanasia.
Christmas presents us with a choice: to join Herod in saying only some people matter; or to join the angels, men and animals at the crib, singing Glory to God and praying for peace and good-will among people.
Every human being matters. You matter. May our Christmas Lord lift up your heart and inspire you to share that Good News in the year ahead. Let His light shine out in everything you do. Colour the year ahead with such love and kindness it will be vividly seen by all. God bless you and your loved ones in the holy season ahead.