Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas, Shaftesbury

I recently asked one of our 10-year-olds in the parish whether he was enjoying the snow. And he said, "Actually, I'm a little bored of it". And I don't think he's the only one! Which is rather odd because for as long as I can remember I've heard people talking about how nice it would be to have a "White Christmas" -after all, isn't that what Bing Crosby sang about? And yet, it turns out that a white Christmas is rather awkward.
As the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for: it may come true!”

Christmas is a good time to think about getting what we wish for, about whether what we get matches up to our hopes and expectations. I don't mean this about the size of our Christmas presents, but rather, about the coming of Jesus Christ Himself.
The simple point I want to make is that the coming of Christ exceeds anything we could wish for, hope for, or expect. But in many ways His coming is so different from what we expect that many people fail to recognise it, and even we who profess to be Christians can fail to truly appreciate it.

If we think back in history to shortly before Jesus Christ came, we know that the Jewish people had been awaiting the coming of the Messiah. For many centuries they had the promises of God telling them that the Messiah would come. But, they didn't know what the Messiah would be like when He came. Most of them were expecting a worldly king, who would freedom from their bondage to the Roman Empire. And their notion of the salvation that He would bring was almost entirely focused on the material world, much as people today easily make Christmas too much about presents, about food and feasting, and so forth –these are part of celebrating Christmas but they are not Christmas itself.

When the Messiah came the manner of His coming was not what the Jews were expecting, even though He fulfilled all of the prophecies to the letter, and the salvation He offered was not what they expected either.
They expected the Messiah to come as a conquering king. In reality, as our Christmas readings remind us, He came as a little child, born in poverty in a stable and laid in a manger. And when, many years later, He was proclaimed king it was as He hung on the wood of the cross (Jn 19:19).
They expected that the Messiah would bring them instant material abundance. In reality, He came in poverty and simplicity, and taught us the way to heaven by showing us a wiser way to use the things of earth. Heaven is a place of happiness so vastly superior to the material happiness that this world promises that as long as our eyes are fixed on this world we will fail to comprehend the happiness of heaven, and fail to properly order our lives to achieve it.

Heaven consists of life with the loving God, the love of God whose very presence awakens a joy in the soul that surpasses our presence comprehension.
If heaven consists of life with the loving God, then it is not surprising that the way to heaven consists of living with the loving God even while we are in this world. And Jesus, the Lord God Himself, came among us in order that He might always be among us, to lead us to the fullness of life with Him in heaven.

His coming will exceed all our wishes, our hopes, and our expectations.
But He can only do this for us if we recognise His coming.
He came to us 2000 years ago born as a little child;
He comes to us still today, in the Mass, and in the hearts yearning to receive Him;
He comes to lead us to heaven, which exceeds all we wish for, even a white Christmas.

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