HOMILY for 21 December
This is a time of year for songs and singing. Sitting in the second of our parish carol services recently, I was reflecting on this annual marvel. That people should come to church voluntarily to sing songs so enthusiastically – and often quite musically difficult and high ones, at that – and, in doing so, proclaim, indeed, preach, the central mysteries of the Christian faith. Would that this happened all year round! It’s often said that singing is central to Christmas because of the angels who proclaimed Christ’s birth to the shepherds. And yet, as Pope Benedict rightly noted about a year ago, there’s nothing in the Gospels to say that the angels sang at all! However, we do find a lot of singing in Advent, and especially in this run-up to Christmas day.
Indeed, we hear today from the greatest song in Scripture, the Song of Songs. The whole of sacred Scripture, of course, reveals the passionate love of God for Man, but here, in the Song of Songs, that love story is condensed into a song shared by a Lover and the Beloved. So the Jesuit theologian, Henri de Lubac said the Song of Songs “symbolically celebrates the great mystery of love, the union of God and man prefigured in Israel and realized by the incarnation of the Word”. And this is why it is fittingly read today. For yesterday, we heard of how, at Our Lady’s ‘Yes’, the Incarnation took place; the eternal Word took flesh in her womb. And today, Scripture sings her greatest song about the world’s greatest love: God’s for humanity.
For God’s love, which creates the whole universe and holds all in being, is sustaining all by the breath of his Spirit, just as a song is sustained by the singer’s breath. And the Word of God’s love song now takes flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. And so, God enters the song of creation. Jesus is, as Pope Benedict says, “a ‘solo’, a theme entrusted to a single instrument or voice which is so important that the meaning of the entire work depends on it”. For, by his incarnation, Christ re-creates the world through his grace so that, as we hear in the Song of Songs, the winter of sin and death is past and ended, and the springtime of grace comes (cf Sg 2:10-11); creation flowers anew, and “the time of singing [or pruning] has come” (cf Sg 2:12). And so, we hear today how, God, the Beloved comes over the hills to Judea, in Mary’s womb. God comes “bounding over the hills” in search of his Love, Mankind, whom he will save.
This Good News, this springtime of Man’s salvation is, the Song of Songs says, heralded by the cooing of the turtledove, a sweet gentle bird. We can see in this a symbol of Our Lady, whose voice is heard by Elizabeth and St John. At her voice, the Baptizer leaps in the womb – indeed, the Fathers said St John danced a jig of joy upon hearing Our Lady’s voice, for thus Mankind rejoices in its salvation first announced by the Virgin Mother’s voice and presence. And then, following the Song of Songs, the proclamation of salvation’s Spring is accompanied by singing. Hence, Our Lady bursts into song and sings her ‘Magnificat’.
So, too, our psalm response today exhorts us: “Sing to him [the Lord] a new song” (Ps 32:3). So, it is really because of Our Lady, I think, rather than because of the angelic choirs that we sing at this time of year. And this is fitting for the Christ, the solo Singer has entered God’s love song of creation, and it is he who calls us to join in his song, the new song of grace and Mankind’s salvation.