Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas, Shaftesbury

The weather outside has been rather cold and bleak recently, rainy and icy, and you might think that this isn’t very nice and Christmas-like. But I want to point out a few things in our crib scene that remind us that, if you think about, the first Christmas wasn’t very Christmas-like.

Picture, if you will, the room in Bethlehem. There was no room in the inn. The stable was cold, the straw was dirty, and the wood of the manger was as hard as the wood of the cross of Calvary. It was pretty bleak, and it is only such a bleak description that does justice to the reality. But such a description is still incomplete, just as our crib scene here would be incomplete without the baby. Because such a bleak description fails to mention Christ –and that’s what we need to remember today, and why we’ve come to Mass today.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the image on so many Christmas cards, where we see the baby Jesus in the manger with light shining out from Him and lighting up the whole stable. What would have been dark, damp and dingy, is made light and glorious by the presence of Christ. That simple pious image conveys the whole theological reality that we are celebrating today.

Christ's coming changed the whole stable, and not just the stable -but the world. That is why He came.
The scriptures describe Christ as, "a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower"(Jn 1:5). We know that darkness, the devil, did try to overpower Him. He tried at His temptation in the desert, in the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and most conclusively on the Cross. But the light overcame the darkness by His resurrection. And all of this is shown and started in His birth. That's why we have the beautiful symbolism of starting the whole celebration in the darkness of the night, at Midnight Mass.

But we also need to remember that: when God changed the world forever, by entering His creation as a little child, it wasn't just some random or casual event. It wasn't a good thing that just happened to come along. It was what God had planned from the very beginning.

Why did God create the universe, the world, and US on it in the first place? He did it that we might share in His divine life. We were made for life with God. As the great St. Augustine puts in, "You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." Since the creation of the first human being, when God breathed the first soul into the first human embryo, we have been waiting for Christ to come among us -to fulfil our destiny.

Our human nature was waiting for Christ. The Jewish people were waiting for Christ -because the scriptures and prophets foretold that He would come. And the darkness of our sins, the darkness of our sufferings and griefs and woes was waiting for Christ too, because we needed to be saved from them.

What we celebrate today is that the waiting is over. Our struggle against the darkness has changed forever because of what happened 2000 years ago tonight. We are never alone in darkness –God is with us, Emmanuel. And we know that in the end darkness will not triumph, over the world, or over us. The victory isn’t finished until the Last Day when he comes again in glory, but the victory is now assured.
In our own time, in all the 2000 years since Christ came, until today, the present is lit up with the presence of God among us. And that holds even in our own personal bleakness and difficulties.

The Word has become flesh. And he has remained with us. Remained with us in the action of his spirit in his Church, in his priests, in his sacraments. And most directly, he has remained with us in his definitive and real presence in the Mass -that's why the Mass is so central to the way that we should celebrate Christmas.
And He remains with us in the hearts of any of us who will receive Him. He didn't just come to the stable in Bethlehem, but as sing in the carol, "where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in".

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