OPENING OF THE LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS
St. Mary’s Cathedral Forecourt, Sydney, 10 December 2020
Welcome to the 11th annual Lights of Christmas celebration here at St. Mary’s Cathedral! There was a real risk this event wouldn’t go ahead in 2020, but I’m very gratified that it has, because I think it’s exactly the shot-in the-arm we all need after this strangest and most challenging of years.
I echo the acknowledgements and thanks of our hosts (St Mary’s Cathedral and the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney), our producers (AGB Events), the NSW government (who’ve been especially helpful this year), our sponsors and our charity partner (St Vincent’s Hospital Healing, Hope and Humanity fund for the vulnerable). We’ve had co-operation like that for 11 years in a row now, allowing us to hold Sydney’s favourite free Christmas event, bringing families, friends and communities together from all over: it’s truly become a great Sydney tradition! In our current pandemic circumstances, tonight’s celebration will also be zoomed and
live-streamed around the world – technologies we now appreciate more than ever.
It’s been a difficult year. At this time last year, smoke hung heavy upon our city, the light was an eery orange hue, and moths invaded the opening night; drought and bushfire continued through the first month of 2020. Just as this apocalypse seemed to be ending, another plague struck us: a once-in-century pandemic with the consequent lockdown and curtailment of much of our normal life.
Of course, it wasn’t all disaster. Health professionals, other service personnel and pastoral carers, government leaders and bureaucrats, health authorities and researchers, employers and landlords, employees and tenants, churches and charities, and our ordinary neighbours: all collaborated in keeping us safe and tonight we honour them all in this celebration. We’ve demonstrated a resilience, generosity and creativity in ourselves and our community, and experienced both human vulnerability and human care. Tonight the gifts of light and technology, of Church architecture and art, and of very clever modern design allow us to give voice to the Gospel messages of hope, peace and joy, of a Light in darkness that the darkness could not overcome, of a Life that even death could not snuff out, of a Love that conquers all.
So tonight we’ll see the light of a single flickering candle spread until it makes for a mighty sun: this represents Christ the Light in darkness, Hope in a hard times, Dawn for a new humanity, a new beginning.
As we see this great basilica transformed with artistry never before seen in Sydney, forming patterns wonderful to see as light dances round the façade, we will delight in human ingenuity inspired by high ideals.
When we come to the segment of the Madonna and Child, notice the sheer fleshiness of the Baby Jesus as portrayed by Ercole, Vouet, Cima, Picasso and Botticelli. This proclaims that God, who is pure spirit, really did become one of us, a human being, a human baby. He did so, so He could share in our fragility, insecurity, anxieties, even our sickness and death. In one we see sand and sea stretch out behind the mother and baby; in another the city is the backdrop; in a third a saints represent the rest of humanity: the point is that this Baby-Jesus came among us, to our people, our city, even our beaches!
Quoting St Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis recently insisted that, in our human vulnerability and divine hope, we are Fratelli Tutti, all sisters and brothers, all in this together. At Christmas God enters into our every situation as one of us, not to wallow in our sufferings but to promise us something better: eternal life, a Christmas that lasts forever. Whatever your present challenges, Christmas says to you: there is hope, you are infinitely loved, there is joy to come.
God bless you all, and let there be Lights!