Christmas is one of the most loved feast days in the Church. Even in our ever more secular society it is a feast still celebrated by most of the population. People, whether of other faiths or of none, find themselves able to find meaning in it.
Perhaps the reason for this is because it is a feast which is associated so much with peace, or maybe because the exchange of gifts within the family provides an opportunity to demonstrate our love for each other, or it could be because the focus is on a new born baby and this stirs our hearts with thoughts of innocence, or possibly it is simply because people everywhere like nice decorations and cheerful music at a cold time of the year.
Of course, we Christians can go along with all of these sentiments but we know that we also celebrate something much more; what we are doing is celebrating the birth of our Divine Saviour.
You see, we Christians know that we are sunk in sin. We know that as human beings we are essentially selfish and over concerned with ourselves and our own comforts often at the expense of other people. We Christians know that people always prefer to do what they want and not what God wants.
Realising our fallen nature, we Christians know that what the world needs more than anything is a Saviour. We know that mankind needs to be redeemed from its sins and brought back into harmony and right relationship with God. And we also know that right from the beginning God has his own plan to achieve just this.
Most people do not believe any of this; but it has been revealed to us that this is how things actually are and that God has a plan for us. And this plan involves sending us his Son to show us how to live our lives in harmony with God’s wishes and to give his life as a sacrifice for our sins so that the royal road to heaven can be opened up for all of us.
This Saviour is, of course, Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate today. We might worry about time but God does not. We are always thinking about days and dates and when things happen. But God doesn’t worry about these things. God takes his time; our salvation has been in process for a very long time indeed.
God first revealed himself to Abraham about four thousand years ago. During the following two thousand years all sorts of things happened to Abraham’s descendants; among many other things they were taken into slavery in Egypt and then journeyed through the Sinai desert for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Later on, they were taken into captivity once again, this time to Babylon and they were only able to return to Israel seventy years later.
During all this time God sent Prophets to his people to inform them of his will and to inspire them to remain faithful and grow in spiritual insight. Unfortunately, the message of the Prophets was largely rejected and the Temple Priesthood became corrupted. But eventually God decided that the time was ripe and he sent us a Saviour in the form of his Son Jesus. It is this event we celebrate today.
Jesus came into our world as an infant; like any other baby child he was innocent and vulnerable and utterly dependent on Mary and Joseph for sustenance and protection. Almost immediately his life was in danger, necessitating the Flight into Egypt. But eventually the family returned to their home in Nazareth and he grew into maturity there until the time came for him to begin his ministry of teaching and healing.
Today we see the Christmas Crib. It is a simple scene with a mother and father with their new born child surrounded by the animals and the dumbstruck shepherds. Angels hover over the roof to remind us that what we see is no domestic scene but rather heaven breaking through into our world.
When we look at the Crib we realise that what we are seeing is something that can only be called the hinge point of history, the moment when heaven and earth were joined and the Son of God entered our world. It is a moment of utmost simplicity, indeed of poverty, but at the same time it is a moment of great glory and wonder.
God could have sent his Son into our world in any number of different ways. He could have arrived with fanfare and trumpet surrounded by armies of angels, which is the sort of arrival that the religious authorities expected. But our God is a wise God and he sends his Son into our world to be born in a stable of a young virgin and to grow up in a poor village in an obscure backwater of the Roman Empire.
His arrival goes unnoticed except for a few shepherds, in some days Wise Men from the East will arrive to pay Jesus homage but no one pays them much attention. This is all quite deliberate because it demonstrates from the beginning just what kind of Messiah this is.
We call Jesus king, but he is as unlike an earthly king as it is possible to be. He is someone who spends his time with the poor, he heals the sick, he feeds the hungry, he gives sight to the blind, he cures lepers, he raises the dead and he preaches a Gospel of love.
But most of all, he forgives sins. For indeed this is why he came, to forgive the sins of all mankind and to open up for us the way of salvation. And he invites each one of us to repent, to experience his forgiveness and to join him on the royal road that leads to heaven.
This is what we are celebrating today. The most unique and significant birth that there ever was, the beginning of our salvation, the event that changed the world. The only feast that eclipses Christmas is Easter when we mark the resurrection and the arrival of our salvation.
So, on this holy day we celebrate, we pray, we sing, we feast, we rejoice. But above all we thank God that he sent us his Son to be our Saviour. May God bless you all. Happy Christmas.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket