Love is a Strange Thing

In the darkest and deepest hour of the night, as silence descends upon the earth, we gather to celebrate the birth of Christ whose coming, so we are told, promises peace and brings hope.’ Here is Fr Dean’s homily for the Christmas Mass at Midnight, which reminds us of the Christmas call to challenge injustice, to stand alongside the poor and those who struggle, as Christ stood and stands alongside us.

Detail of the reredos at St Mary’s showing the Adoration of the Shepherds

In his book, ‘The Boy with Two Hearts,’ Hamed Amiri tells of his family’s struggles as they escape war torn Afghanistan to seek refuge in the UK, eventually settling here in Cardiff as their home. Their journey was made all the more difficult by the heart condition of his older brother, Hussein.

At the end of his book, after movingly describing his brother’s death in a UK hospital some years later, he writes ‘Love is a strange thing, especially when it’s felt between total strangers.  In my life with Hussein and through writing this book, I can now see that love crosses borders.  It crosses religions and families and can occur between people who’ll never see each other again.  It brings hope, even in the darkest moments you face.” 

In this, the darkest and deepest hour of the night, as silence descends upon the earth, we gather to celebrate the birth of Christ whose coming, so we are told, promises peace and brings hope.  The news is shared, first, with poor shepherds, night-workers, rooted to the earth, alert to shadows and movements and possible dangers, close to their sheep, seeking warmth from them and one another.

Angel voices fill the sky, and there is light too, as heaven and earth seem to be united in a moment of glory.  Surely, the shepherds cannot be in doubt about the certainty and the seriousness of what they have been told.  And so they make haste, take that journey from the hillside to the town, to see the sign spelt out to them, a baby wrapped in cloths.

This ‘Mass at Midnight’ is known in many places throughout the world as ‘The Mass of the Shepherds’.  It is, then, a Mass of the poor and the ritually unclean, of the night-time workers, and working class, the manual labourers, those who smell of the earth and the outdoors, those carrying on themselves the smell of the sheep.

The angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people.’

We are all too well aware of the presence of poverty in our world, in our country, in our own communities. Of the ten poorest communities in Wales, six of them are here in the southern arc of Cardiff. Unless we are careful, communities can be known as nothing more than deprived, when within them and beneath them are qualities of life which can inspire, a rich treasure trove of talent and possibilities, of people fighting against the odds, unravelling the reputation that others have given them.

Unless we are careful, communities can be known as nothing more than deprived, when within them and beneath them are qualities of life which can inspire.

But as they and we struggle, there are no angel voices, no obvious sign of heaven breaking through, no divine light shining brightly in the sky.

When a dinghy full of refugees crossing the English Channel starts to sink, there is no light from heaven, only the search beam of a helicopter which somehow comes to the rescue but not before four people die in the freezing winter waters.

And when a plane leaves Heathrow for Rwanda filled with rejected  refugees, there will be no angel voices, no Divine song that seems worth singing.

When a dad and his son settle into a hole in the ground of Afghanistan for more than a day, waiting for the missile attacks to be over, the only light in the sky are the flames of fire and missile trails, and explosions.

When girls and women are excluded from education by the Taliban, and Putin’s power displaces thousands, when housing waiting lists grow longer, and mental health services cannot keep up with the need, we look to the sky and see only darkness.

When a whole community is displaced from their home because of floods caused by rising tides, and extreme weather, there are no lights to guide them home, no good news proclaimed to them, just the distant sounds of politicians debating climate targets for the future.

When UK High Street banks keep closing and give way to banks which dole out food, now more numerous than outlets of Macdonald’s, where is the good news for them, for us?

When a mother mourns the death of her child, stabbed in the street, whilst communities respond against the raging obstacles put in their way, told to keep quiet in case they spoil the brand of a growing city, where is the good news?

So how is this a Mass of the poor, and how does Christmas change anything? Where is the promised peace, and where is the light in the darkness, where is the angel’s song, where is the good news proclaimed?

Well, perhaps we need some help from our Muslim brother, Hamed, who discovered the secret in the midst of his own difficulties and dangers.

Remember what he wrote, “Love is a strange thing, especially when it’s felt between total strangers. In my life with Hussein and through writing this book, I can now see that love crosses borders. It crosses religions and families and can occur between people who’ll never see each other again. It brings hope, even in the darkest moments you face.”

In 2022, we celebrated the status of St Mary’s Church in Wales Primary School becoming a ‘School of Sanctuary’. Here’s the proud and brilliant School of Sanctuary Committee celebrating their award!

In Christ, we see the embodiment of Love, the face of God, the touch of God, showing us the power of his Love. We see God’s faithfulness towards us, We see God immersed in the human condition, showing us the possibilities of Love.

In Christ, we see the embodiment of Love, the face of God, the touch of God, showing us the power of his Love

In Christ, we see both who God is, and what we as human beings have been made to be and called to be.  In Christ, we see both our distant past, to which we have been blind, and our future. His birth, his life, his death and resurrection shows us that there is hope, there is light, there can be peace, “even in the darkest moments you face.”

We are called to be this Love to others, and to receive this Love from others.  Each of us, in our own lives, and together as the Church, are called to be Christ’s Body in the world, his presence in the world, being Christ for one another, crossing borders, bringing hope.

Celebrating this Mass, and every other Mass, changes things.  It unites us to the cross of Jesus.  Through it we receive all the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection.  We receive all the benefits of God’s Love.  And each of us will know the power of love to change things, to bring hope.

“Love is also contagious,’ wrote Hamed, “jumping from one person to the next and never dying out.”

May this Christmas bring much joy and peace, much hope and happiness.  May it comfort us in the faithfulness of God, may it form us anew in his love, and enable us to be his love for others, and as St Paul says, to have “no ambition except to do good,” for love to be contagious.

May it give us the courage to speak out against injustice, to challenge poverty, to respond to need, to work for peace, to live responsible lives, to live care-full lives, playing our own part, to be that light, that angels song, revealing the life of Heaven, to build the Kingdom of God.

“Love is a strange thing,” said Hamed.”

It is also a most beautiful thing, a life changing thing. It’s what the world needs, it’s what we need.

In searching for Love, we find it bundled in cloths in a feeding trough, alongside the shepherds, the poor and those regarded as unclean, the night-time workers and working class, the manual labourers, those who smell of the earth and the outdoors, those carrying the smell of the sheep, or the stink of a damp house or the sweat which comes from struggle and hardship, or the from the rage of fighting for justice, those who weep for home, who have no home, those who have already given up on the future.

We stand with them, as Christ stands with them, as Christ stands with us, as one of us, but showing us so much more, showing us the possibilities of God’s love, bringing hope, even in the darkest moments we face.

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