It was agonisingly long waiting for his birth. People were craving the baby’s arrival. But it took much longer than anyone had expected. The only certain thing was that the baby would finally be born; everything else was a mystery. Such a situation led to some strange speculation, unconfirmed rumours and made-up stories. That prolonged waiting wore some people’s patience thin, and they gave up. But most of them kept on waiting, and finally their endurance was rewarded: they saw the long-expected baby boy: Prince George.

People’s reactions to that birth ranged from ecstatic joy through polite interest and pure ambivalence down to unconcealed irritation. It was astonishing to see that one little baby, hardly aware of his own existence, could have roused such a spectrum of emotions nationwide and beyond. It happened because of the boy’s predicted future role, and not because of his capacity to use up a few nappies a day.

On this night we celebrate the birth of another baby boy, though the circumstances were completely different. At the time, the only people interested in the birth were the baby’s mother and father; it took place in a very humble place rather than in a posh private hospital, and there weren’t any reporters to pass on the news live. Jesus’ birth resembled that of a working class baby; nevertheless his destiny was the ultimate.

Every day children are born. Each one of them has the potential to become a unique individual, enriching the lives of people around him or her, and possibly influencing further afield. The child’s development is a massively complicated composition of genes, upbringing, education, environment and numerous other factors. The final individual result of the whole process is hardly predictable due to so many variables. But this unpredictability doesn’t justify any idleness in creating favourable conditions for child development. We know that loving acceptance, health care and education can dramatically boost children’s chances of enhancing their abilities and talents.

That little boy, born in a stable in a rather insignificant village in an insignificant corner of the Roman Empire, has changed the world, and he still has a massive impact on the lives of millions of people worldwide. Thanks to him, generation after generation has discovered that God is the loving Father, and people have tried to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, adapting his teaching of love and forgiveness to their own particular circumstances and ways of life. Each year his birthday gathers together families and friends, even those who have forgotten about or abandoned its religious aspect.

Tonight we celebrate that particular birthday, accompanied by howling winds and unpleasant weather. It should remind us of all those less fortunate than ourselves: people deprived of their homes by natural disasters, refugees from war zones, exiles expelled from their homeland, the disaffected, the abandoned and the lonely… Among them there are the most vulnerable and helpless: children losing their chances of a better life. Although we can do very little directly to solve their problems, we can and we should do our little bit. Not out of guilt – as our good fortune is due neither to our merit nor to our fault – but out of compassion and love that we have learnt directly from Jesus. For the third year running, we will give our Midnight Mass collection to charities helping those less fortunate to improve their chances to lead better, dignified lives. Grateful for having a roof above our heads and food on the table, we can share our Christmas joy in such a simple but tangible way.