What a cause of joy we have today! To a world sunk in sin and hopelessness our heavenly Father sends us a Saviour.
The world was no different then than it is now. There was greed and exploitation, there was a great chasm between the rich and the poor, politicians and rulers moved from crisis to crisis, vested interest covertly influenced events, wars were waged, children starved, and preventable disease afflicted many people unnecessarily.
Into this mess God sent us a Saviour: Someone who could show us how to find our way through all this strife and confusion and lead us to our heavenly homeland. And this Saviour not only shows us the way but by his sacrifice wins for us the decisive victory over sin and evil and reconciles the whole human race with God. This Saviour is, of course, Jesus Christ our Lord, the Son of God and our Divine Saviour.
Tonight we celebrate his birth; his incarnation into our world all those years ago. It is the most decisive intervention God has made in our world since the creation. And it came to its culmination thirty-three years later on the Cross of Calvary and out of the Empty Tomb. Because of what was achieved on that hillside in Jerusalem we are able to be cleansed of our sins and rise with him to everlasting life. What greater cause of joy could there be than this?
And this joy is not restricted to believers, not just to Christians. The celebration of Christmas is nowadays celebrated almost everywhere by believers and non-believers alike. Partly this is to do with commercialism, but this commercialism is based on one very important aspect of the celebration —that is the exchange of gifts. Our exchange of gifts is a reflection of the greatest gift given by God to this world; namely, the gift of his Son Jesus Christ.
This gift is given quite freely and is the outcome of no request on behalf of mankind. Indeed, it is something no human being could have ever dreamed was possible; and we know the reactions of influential people at the time of Jesus who declared openly that such a thing could not happen.
But God’s gift is ultimately rejected by man. His Son is nailed to a cross on the blackest day in the history of humanity. But then, as we know, the most incredible thing of all happened. This ultimate rejection is turned into the greatest possible good and merely becomes for God the opportunity to show the full depth of his love. The sacrifice of Christ and his subsequent resurrection from the dead is the means by which our sins are forgiven and the way to everlasting life is opened up for the whole of mankind.
This great gift is rejected and yet God gives us something even greater. His love is shown to be boundless; his mercy is shown to be total, his grace completely overflowing. Our feeble exchange of gifts is the merest hint of a reflection of the extraordinary munificence of God. And that is not to denigrate what we do, we certainly must never do that, for the custom of exchanging gifts provides us with a valuable opportunity to show love and gratitude to our nearest and dearest.
But the one who is really nearest and dearest to us, our Divine Saviour, also deserves our love and gratitude. But what can we give to him who has everything? The words of that ever-popular Christmas Carol come to mind:
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man I would do my part,
yet what I can I give him –give my heart.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket