Latin Patriarchate - Jerusalem

1998 Christmas Mid Night Mass Homily

1. Brothers and Sisters,

We have just listened to the word of God. The first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah: "A son has been given to us, and this is the name he has been given: Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace" (Is 9:4). This is a prophecy from the eighth century BC which the Church applies to the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Lake, in the Gospel, (2: 1-20), gives us a simple narration of the event: Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, but they were originally from Bethlehem and the tribe of David. The Roman Emperor Augustus, ruler of the known world at that time, issued an order for a general census, which obligated every one to return to his original town. So Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. However, they were not welcomed here, neither amongst the members of their own tribe, their extended family, or even within the guesthouse. They were forced to seek refuge in a nearby grotto. In that place, Jesus was born and placed in a manger.

2. In this narration we find two categories of people: the powerful of this world, and the simple and weak, both called to the same salvation. The powerful of this world in the Gospel were the Roman emperor, Augustus, and his governor of Syria, Quirinius, - because Bethlehem at that time was a part of the Syrian province.

The second category was the shepherds who were looking after their sheep in nearby Beth Sahour.

The news of the birth of Jesus and his mystery was not sent to the powerful of this world, but to the meek and simple, to the shepherds. Because of their humility, they received the news. They saw and they welcomed the mystery of God.

Today the great Roman Empire, which governed the entire known world at that time, has disappeared. Many others succeeded it, but these too have disappeared, one after the other, while the event revealed to the shepherds in the small city of Bethlehem remains until today. The shepherds who received the news of Christ's birth hold a far greater importance to the faith of all believers than the great emperor of the time.

3. In the world, and in our land today, the powerful look to Bethlehem. They are aware of its importance because of the mystery and the message of its cradle, and yet they often miss the essence of its message. Next year, the world will celebrate with joy and hope the great event of Bethlehem, and yet Bethelhem is still unable to enjoy the message that has been given to the world through it.

The angels sang in this place; "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth."

First, glory to God. If God is given glory then peace on earth will come upon men of good will, who sincerely want peace and earnestly strive for it.

Glory will be given to God when all, the small and the great, the weak and the strong, see that every human being is part of the glory of God, and all are equal before Him.

Glory will be given to God when the brother does not make war against his brother. When the powerful respects the poor and the weak. When the ruler hears every cry of the weak, when no one who is strong takes advantage of his strength to oppress or exploit, in order to gain profit for his own interest, his only law being the number of his men supporting his oppression whenever he chooses, not taking into consideration neither the glory of God nor the dignity of his brother or the common good of all,

Mr. President and dear brother, your motto often repeated by yourself is the message of the angels: "Glory to God in the highest arid peace on earth."

This message is not the motto of some who here see themselves strong and oppress the people entrusted to you.

May Christmas give you light and strength. May it bring forgiveness but also purification to those who oppress, so people will enjoy tranquillity and security. So that peace will be present in the hearts of the people, and when peace is in the hearts it will be possible to establish it in the land.

Brothers and sisters,

4. A year from now we will celebrate the Great Jubilee of the mystery of the Incarnation and the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Word or God, in this city in which God has given us the grace to live and pray. H.H. Pope John Paul II invites us in this third and final year of preparation for that event to meditate upon the mystery of God the Father, our Creator and Redeemer.

5. Two additional events are going to take place in this coming year, 1999, in preparation for the year of the Great Jubilee in the Middle East. First the Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East has decided to hold a Congress for all Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of the M.E in May 1999, in order to reach a new vision for the Christian presence and service in our societies. Secondly, one month earlier, in April 1999, the Middle East Council of Churches will hold its General Assembly and will gather all Patriarchs and Bishops of the Middle East Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, with this same objective in mind.

We ask our faithful to precede these two events and to accompany them with their prayers. May God give His shepherds the necessary vision, light and courage to guide those who are entrusted to them in this region of the world.

6. We pray for the weak and those who suffer throughout the world, and for all peoples torn by war, bloodshed and hatred.

We pray for the people of Iraq in its continuous sufferings.

We pray for all prisoners in the world. We pray for the prisoners in our land still suffering and deprived from freedom and peace.

We pray for all our faithful in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus.

We pray for the people of Nazareth, Christians and Moslems, who are experiencing in these days a difficult trial of their fraternity. May they be strong enough to overcome all difficulties.

We pray for all the authorities in this land and in the region, political, civil and religious. We pray for all the inhabitants of this land, Moslems, Jews and Christians.

May God fill us all with his grace, give us abundant joy, and bless us.

"A son has been given to us and this is the name he has been given: Wonderful- Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace" (Is 9:4).

Happy and Holy Christmas to you all. Amen.

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch