Christmas – how many memories crowd in on us. The passing of time casts its deeper shadows during this Season. In the stillness we hear again the laughter, the voices and the sighs of pain and sorrow of other days. The flickering flames of the fire deepen the outlines of the many relatives and friends who once shared in the Season’s festivities. “The smiles, the tears of boyhood’s years, the words of love then spoken; the eyes that shone, now dimmed and gone,” …So much comes back in the glow of Christmas night.
But the most abiding memory of Christmas must be our annual visit to the Crib. As little ones how we were fascinated and wondered in the presence of the Babe of Bethlehem. We returned again in our teens to be reassured and in our young adulthood to meet the challenge this Child offered. As life continued to teach us we came back to Christ with a real trust to be comforted and consoled. Now we can see that running through all our visits was the drawing power of love – the Christ Child offering us His love and our seeking to respond – the story of Christmas becoming the story of our union with Him who comes in the Name of the Lord. Christmas – when we first learned that love is only repaid by love.
What a place to meet with the Lord of Hosts – a stable in the dead of night. What a marvellous way to show the union of the human and the divine. How extraordinary to find the common bond of love expressed in a shared poverty. On this basis He could speak to us of shared values, of a vision and a mission we could make our own. From the manger this Child of the Virgin Mother Mary could speak to us of our destiny, our dignity, our ability, in His Name, to change not only ourselves but the world. Here we hear of our God-given rights and of our responsibilities as God’s adopted children. This Child will come to represent everything that is inspiring in terms of mercy, of compassion, of love, of justice and of peace. Christmas is a time to renew one’s spirit in the message and in the challenge of the Christ Child, a time to determine to become more credible witnesses to Him.
As a Man, the Christ spoke to us as adults, laid down clear conditions of service, did not mince His words, bow to fashion or crumble at the least line of resistance. He didn’t insult His followers by false promises or Disney-like solutions to issues. He confronted the issues. He proposed a programme of action. He offered a vision and shared His Mission. None were beyond His compassion or His sense of justice. Thus the widow and her dead son, and the rich man who fed his dogs but not Lazarus. It is the same Christ who saw the women and children eat grass and die in the ditches of Ireland 150 years ago – and the widow who gave her mite. He identified with all victims of injustice, with the poor and the marginalised. There can be no relationship with Him while we ignore or neglect those in need. He insisted: “As often as you do it to one of these the least of my brethren you do it to Me”.
We have moved from our early Christmas visit to the Crib when we went in search of the Babe at Bethlehem with the shepherds. Having found the Lord in the manger we now seek Him as He reveals Himself in others. The poverty of the stable is the key to the doors of the orphanages in Bulgaria, Albania and Rumania. Our search will lead us to refugee camps, to the homeless of London and Calcutta, to the undergrounds of great cities where children live like animals and where victims of drugs lie in squalor. Our search will bring us to the death beds of the victims of AIDS, to the factories where children are cruelly exploited and to the brothels where young girls are enslaved. Jesus Christ crucified is to be found in all of these places. But what faith, what hope and what love one needs to make such a journey in spirit.
If we take this spirit on board then this Christmas will have a deeper significance than previous ones. It is worth thinking about that this Christmas may be the one when you will really find Christ. If you do – then change the world!
Have a blessed Christmas – and don’t forget your donation for the children.