I was talking to a good friend of mine during the week and we got to discussing our top three Christmas Carols. Mine are: Once in Royal David’s City, Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful. Do you have your favourites? I particularly like verse two of Once in Royal David City. It goes like this:
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.
For Christians, this is what Christmas is about. Our God visits us and lives among us in our poverty, and our need. In the person of Jesus we are met by the God of love who bows down to lift us up. God comes into our lives and visits our world, first of all, in the places where the light of life needs to shine.
And there are many places where that light is needed. For some, that light will be sought this Christmas in those who have suffered grief and loss. In our parishes alone we have celebrated the lives of over eighty parishioners who have died this year. For many family members there will be a sense of emptiness this Christmas, as they gather for the first time without their loved one.
For others, Christmas time can bring out underlying tensions in relationships and family feuds where things are not perfect. We know that violence can erupt in households around this time. In the Church too, we know that for some people the pain of sexual abuse and the cover up scandals will be brought to the fore this Christmas, as many people gather happily in Churches and others remember the crimes and cruelness inflicted on them by clergy.
And across the globe there are wars still raging as human beings resort to violence and aggression to solve their problems. For some, Christmas may see a cease-fire, but not a sign of lasting peace. These conflicts, and those closer to home, provide a stark relief to the other often popular Christmas carols that tell us it is the ‘season to be jolly’.
For Christians, the heart of Christmas is not to be jolly, but the possibility of a break-through in the cycle of darkness and death. Christ is born in the dead of night. God sends the prince of peace into an incomplete world. The narratives of his birth tell us that the menacing forces inspired by jealousy and self-interest are already at work when he comes. The busy town of Bethlehem can’t find room for a poor couple expecting a baby. Herod wants him dead. His mother wraps him in a shroud, already prefiguring the opposition (death) he will face. His parents flee to Egypt to protect themselves and the new born. This is hardly a fairy-tale story with a happy ending.
The birth of Jesus is the birth of God-with-us. In the person of Jesus, God breaks into our world. This is not just a past event. The God who desires to walk along-side human beings, to accompany them in their trials, to inspire them in their lives, to invite them to a vision for a future of peace and good-will towards all people, continues to visit us.
For Christians, Christmas is not the time to escape from the realities of life and put on a ‘happy’ face. It is a time to welcome the God who journeys with us in our very incomplete lives. It is a time to be conscious of the incompleteness of our world. That is why our Parish Giving Tree was so generously supported this year. Thousands of dollars worth of gifts and vouchers were collected to give to many of those who are struggling this Christmas. Here solidarity and compassion shine out beyond happiness and merriment.
At Christmas we welcome the one who is always there – the God of compassion and mercy. And so we should be happy for that, giving glory to God and wishing peace to all. That reminds me of another carol – ‘Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the new born king. Peace on earth and mercy mild, ….born to give us second birth’. So I pray that God may visit us this Christmas and bring new hope and new birth to all.
By Fr Brendan Reed, Parish Priest