So, this is Christmas. I’m not sure about you, but it’s been hard for me to board the Christmas train this year. It feels as though we lurch from tragedy to tragedy, heart-break to heart-break, bad news following more bad news. The vagaries of the pandemic continue to shadow the world and as we gather to celebrate Christmas, we may wonder how this ancient story of a child born in a manger can possibly have any relevance to this fractured, suffering world of ours. Can the celebration of the birth of the Christ-child really make a difference?
Fr Timothy Radcliffe is a Dominican preacher and spirituality writer. Throughout this year he has had significant health challenges and in offering his first homily since his illness he observed:
‘I love the word ‘confidence’ – from the Latin con fidens, ‘believing together’. In this time of waiting, we should give confidence to each other… We must share hope. Hope and despair are contagious. And every one of us makes a choice of whether we are going to be a source of hope or a source of despair.’ (Hope and despair are contagious (La-Croix.com))
No-one really knows what happened on that silent night all those years ago. But we know there was a dream, a journey, a star and a birth. That something about this birth inspired the visit of the lowly and the wise and sowed fear in the heart of a ruler. And we know that generations of people before us have found inspiration in this story and have found meaning in this birth. It is from this we can draw confidence.
Over these next days, millions of people around the world will once again gather around a manger. The ancient story of Jesus’ birth will be recalled, carols will be sung and candles lit. And us? Well, we will offer what we can to the manger of 2021: the conversations we’ve had, the work we have done, the hurts we have absorbed, the griefs we bear, the joys we have experienced, our hopes and dreams, our pandemic wounds and fears – all this and more. These are the gifts of the heart we offer and lay in the manger straw. These are the gifts that will nestle alongside the stories of our ancestors as we, too, contribute to the unfolding of God’s story for humanity. This is a manger that has room for all – big enough to contain the hopes and fears of all the years.
In that great story of redemption and hope, Les Misérables, the character of Jean Valjean reflects that to ‘love another person is to see the face of God’. And perhaps this is the gift that Christmas offers us. In Jesus, the face of God is revealed. So, wherever we spend our Christmas, when we look at the faces of God among us and we lay down our troubles – just for a little while – we know that this celebration of the birth of Jesus means that we do not walk alone. That the world is a graced and holy place because the Emmanuel: God-with-us, is here. And perhaps, even though at times we may feel as though we are just holding on, perhaps this is what choosing hope looks like. Confidence in the knowledge that God is with us. Believing together in hope.
So let us choose hope! Let us proclaim with confident hearts the news of great joy that ‘Today is born our Saviour, Christ the Lord’. And let this profound knowledge about God’s great love for the world inspire in us a desire to continue to be part of this Good News.
May the grace and peace of Christmas touch the hearts of all in our community.
By Cathy Jenkins