Christmas Vigil by Abbot Stan

24 December 2017

IS 62:1-5, Acts 13:16-17,22-25, Mt 1:1-25

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.

Blessed Christmas to each of you from all of us in the monastic community. We are so happy to have you with us, to share with you the great joy which is for all the people: On this day is born for you a Savior, Christ the Lord.

With such a plethora of words and images and songs, allow me to speak briefly about three things tonight: 1) glory to God in the highest; 2) peace on earth; and, 3) walking in the darkness toward the light.

1) Last evening, Brother Francis shared with us that the center piece of the Christmas celebration in his monastery of Illah in Nigeria is the Gloria. People come from near and far to hear the monks sing the Gloria on Christmas night. The monks practice hard to make it really good. They are even eager to prolong the singing rehearsal so as to get it just right. And we have just sung this song with great gusto and emotion, lifting our voices to hail the new born King, our savior Jesus Christ. There is no song more evocative of the mystery we are celebrating than this. Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. As we heard in the Gospel of Saint Luke, it is the very song of the angels, the song that moved the shepherds to go and see the great mystery the song had announced: the birth of God in human history.

Glory to God! That is what this night is all about. Glory to God! who has done such great things for us. God is good. God is faithful. God is merciful. And for all these things we sing, Glory to God. The face of God is the face of a loving father who has given us his Son in Jesus Christ. Christmas is thus about the closeness of God. Christmas is about living in God’s presence. Christmas is about the love of God manifest in the tiny infant, it is about adoring God in the Child who has been born for us. For most of my monastic life it has been the kneeling before the crèche and contemplating the almighty God of the universe in the face of the Child that has always drawn me to the mystery of Christmas. I have yet to get tired of this adoration. With Saint Bernard I have cried out to myself: God became a little child. The virgin mother wraps his tender limbs in swaddling clothes — and do you tremble with fear? Or will you realize from this that he has not come to destroy but to save you, not to bind but to set you free? And my response has always been: Glory to God!

2) And on earth peace to people of good will. What is the peace about which the angels and we have sung? Pope Francis has pointed out that peace is not a balance of opposing forces, as we have now between North Korea and America. Peace is not a façade which conceals conflicts and divisions, as we have in so many parts of our world. Rather the peace about which we sing is God’s gift, the grace God gives us in the Child. My peace I give you, Jesus will say at the Last Supper. Such a peace calls for a response on our part, a response of commitment. It is a commitment to make this gift of God a reality in our lives, a commitment to being people of good will.

3) Darkness and light, seeing and walking. Have you ever reflected on the deep reality that we are walkers? Think about it: we are a people who walk, who walk in darkness often, seeking the promised land, seeking the fulness of human life; always walking, always seeking. And as we make our way in this darkness, tonight we hear: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shone…. The true light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. Have you caught sight of it, my brothers and sisters? Have you seen the light? It is a humble light. It is a light that is easy to snuff out. It is a light open only to the lowly — the shepherds on the periphery, Mary and Joseph for whom there was no room in the inn, we, who have been given the grace of believing through no merit of our own. It is a light that shines forth from the face of an infant as he stretches out his arms toward each one of us.

Glory, peace, walking in the light.

My sisters and brothers, let us make our way with the shepherds to the crèche, let us go to the crib to see the sight which caused the multitude of the angelic hosts to cry out: Glory to God in the highest. Let us receive the gift of God’s peace and recommit ourselves to being people of good will. Let us walk toward the light streaming from the face of the infant and let us continue our journey walking in his light.

Such is the grace of this night.

Blessed Christmas!