At this time of year, Christians can do well to look back, Janus like, at the past year, and simultaneously to look ahead. We look back on the calendar year, and the great advances in secular marriage equality symbolized by the USA Supreme Court judgement and the Irish popular referendum success, and to the Catholic Bishops’ Synod Assembly on marriage and family. That synod did not do anything concrete to improve the position of lesbian and gay Catholics directly, but in what was not said, and in the tone of the discussions, it is clear that as we look ahead at the start of the calendar year, improvements in pastoral practice are clearly on the way, at least in some parts of the world. Those improvements in turn will spread, and in time lead to a continuing evolution in doctrine itself.
Against this background, the words from Isaiah for the first reading of the Christmas midnight Mass have profound relevance and resonance for us.
The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.
For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.
For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
and consumed by fire.
For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.