Christmas 2023

I recently heard a funny little story of a mother who complained one day to her own mother that it was getting harder and harder to get her    teen-aged sons and daughters to write a thank you note for the gifts that they receive at Christmas. The grandmother told her daughter not to worry about it, she would take care of it. Well Christmas arrived and all of the teens did not just write a note but they stopped by their grandmother’s house within a week of Christmas to say thank-you. Their mother was incredulous and called her mother to find out how she, in her grandmotherly wisdom, was able to accomplish something at which she had been so unsuccessful. “It was easy,” said the grandmother, “I sent each of them a card with a cheque in it, but I did not bother signing the cheque.”

Christmas is all about gratitude. It is a celebration of God’s gratuitous love. God so loved the world that he became one of us. Presence is a powerful gift. Being present, allows others to know they are not alone. Together we are always stronger. The birth of Jesus immediately brought others to his presence. Outsiders, those who lived on the periphery, were brought into the heart of God’s presence in Bethlehem. The Holy Land, this Christmas, is a place of horrendous conflict and war. Images of babies being brutally murdered in Gaza, confronts us with a living horror story. Perhaps in 2023, Jesus birth, would take place under the rubble of war-torn streets in the Holy Land. I pray, that the hearts of those fuelled by hatred will be softened to negotiation and ceasefire. Let’s remember this Christmas, volunteers and peacekeepers who heroically offer frontline support to victims of such violence and war.

Christmas can often exaggerate our vulnerabilities. Many find this time of year difficult and lonely. Let’s try and be more present to those in our community and families who would appreciate a visit. I notice huge numbers attend the graves of loved ones gone before them, especially on Christmas morning. I pray that those who have gone before us, will truly be part of that Heavenly chorus, who rejoices in God’s eternal presence.

Christmas is best experienced through the innocence and wonder and awe of little children. Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn. 2023, has witnessed, further escalation in the number of homeless people here in Ireland, especially the number of homeless children. The Christmas story challenges attitudes such as xenophobia. The Christ child was a refugee, who sought shelter in order to survive. The Irish people have expressed enormous generosity to those who have come seeking refuge and new beginning. In challenging times regarding accommodation, our heritage is deeply rooted in the context of emigration. The Irish diaspora throughout the world, reminds me, that in all our families we have relations who once had to leave our island seeking new beginning and opportunity.

Perhaps our greatest gift we have is that of our health of body and peace of mind. A recent visit to a little baby, very unwell, in Crumlin hospital, reminded me, that many parents are deeply anxious about their sick child. I pray for all who long for the gift of health and peace of mind. I pray blessing for all who will work on the front line throughout the Christmas. Christmas is celebrated during the winter solstice, darkness is once again defeated by the light that will bring the new spring. In our winter gardens, heroic green shoots of hope erupt from the winter soil. Patrick Kavanagh, once prayed, “Christ will come in his January flower”.

May the birth of Jesus Christ yet again bring a sense of rejuvenation to all our lives, may we be open, to God’s presence that, heals, transforms and uplifts, a presence, that is full of empathy, a love that accepts each one of us as we find ourselves to be. God does not live just in holy places but is truly present in the wholesome lives of all his people. May you all be blessed with a healthy and peaceful Christmas.


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