Christmas - Love, Joy, Peace, Good Will to All

25 December 2019 | General Interest

CHRISTMAS  HOMILY  2019   ESSENDON

LOVE, JOY, PEACE, GOOD WILL TO ALL

Lk 2.1-20   Is 9.1-7     

(6.00pm & 10am Masses: Rhyme Bible version too! “The Special Baby & The Shepherds”)

 

Here we are again for yet another Christmas, as 2019 disappears into the smoke and mist!  It has hardly been a good year in many ways, as we look at the way in which our world has become narrower and nastier, in the way people have tended to look in on themselves in fear and distrust, rather than look out at the possibilities of engaging with the broader world and welcoming the stranger, rather than building walls and isolating ourselves. This is meant to be our time of peace and good will, and appreciation of the wonder of life and love, and the world around us.

The Christmas story is timeless, as we gather to celebrate this birth of the child Jesus, over 2000 years ago, as Luke tells a story of simplicity, love and warmth, despite the external rejection of the family with no room at the inn as the refrain.  Yet they discover the manger, but it took until Francis of Assisi in the 13th century who first advocated portraying the Nativity scene at the crib, with Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus surrounded first by the farm animals and then the dirty old, but devoted shepherds, well before Matthew brings in the wise men from the East, all reflecting the universal nature of this event.

It’s a lovely picture that we all fondly remember from childhood, a family scene, a special birth, as is every birth a miracle of life, where there is a sense of welcome and relief that all is well, despite the poverty and simplicity of the scene.  Mary, as mother and faithful believer, ponders it all in her heard, wondering what it all means, and what the future might bring for this child, and for herself, for that matter.

It’s a story of a tough journey, to Bethlehem first, as required by the Roman authorities for the census, and then, of course, the long journey back home to Nazareth, as the tale is told, this time with a baby in tow.  We don’t get too many details, except the essentials, and the conviction of the Gospel writers, Luke and Matthew, that this reflects the origins of Jesus, who has come into a troubled world to bring love and light, forgiveness and reconciliation, peace and good will for all.

At the same time, my good friend Eric Hodgens, retired priest (who turned 4x21’s yesterday, just a year ahead of  good old Pope Francis@83!), points out that, also central to our lovely Christmas story, is displacement and relocation, focussing on Mary and Joseph and the helpless infant Jesus, on the move.  Migration is a large part of the human story throughout history.  Yet our world today seems to have trouble understanding that fact and managing it, rather than rejecting and alienating, even dehumanizing those who wish to migrate, particularly those in desperate circumstances, of which there are frightening numbers!  Eric concludes his reflection thus: “It is the ultimate irony when people who confidently proclaim to be Christian are the nastiest dogs in the manger”!!!

We might wonder, 2000 years on, how much progress we’ve made, when we consider our current 21st century world, with selfish nationalism on the increase, negative and inward-looking leadership in many countries, including our own.  Then we have simplistic, sloganistic and selfish ideologues pretending they are Messiahs or Saviours,  with simple solutions to complex problems and people are silly enough to get sucked in by their nonsense!  Meanwhile, we want a safe and secure future for our children and our children’s children, which is only natural.  We all have our own fears and insecurities, weaknesses but also hopes and strengths, which we have a responsibility to face up to and deal with.

And here’s our world (wide and wonderful world) at Christmas 1968, as humans first escaped Earth’s gravity to prove that we’re not all flat earthers!!! Our precious Blue Planet to preserve and protect (Apollo 8 photo on screen), now 50 years since the moon landing (Apollo XI photo from  ‘Earthrise’).

I can’t but help go back to Simon and Garfunkel’s  7 O’Clock News/Silent Night rendition of the state of the world, particularly the rather insular USA in 1966, as Martin Luther King was on the march for civil rights, and the Vietnam War escalated alarmingly, as did the anti-war protests!

The coming of a Saviour doesn’t solve all the problems, or give us all the answers we want, including Jesus!  Look at the way in which his message has been distorted or forgotten throughout history since his coming.   We celebrate his birth joyfully, but also need to remember our own ongoing part to play in bringing his message of love and forgiveness into our lives, our relationships and our world.  He shows us the way to live life well, and to respond to the Spirit working in our midst, but it’s up to you and me to reflect that spirit in making a difference, using the gift of free will, to do the right thing, especially in difficult circumstances.

To my mind, it is no bad thing that Christmas season is permeated by anticipation, excitement and gift giving.  The secular feast is part of the whole picture, and I’ve always enjoyed this spirit as well as the Christian faith perspective.  The Christmas tree is a great example of this, remembering that there is a big Bavarian (or is it Austrian?)  Christmas tree in St Peter’s Square, some critical that it went up even before Advent!  Time goes by so quickly that I can’t see it as a bad idea to get in early, even if hot cross buns could well be on sale by Boxing Day, tomorrow!

And we can’t escape Christmas without good old Father Christmas (Santa Claus in other places such as North America or Babbo Natale in Italia or Pere Noel en France.  Then there’s good old King Wenceslas who pops in the next day, on the Feast of Stephen, when the snow was crisp and cold and even, or something like that!).    With Santa peeping around the corner too,  his spirit of giving is something to be admired and imitated, and the joy and happiness he brings to children is also to be appreciated.  (Who’s excited about that?)   His origins in St Nicholas are immersed in generosity and responding to the poor and needy of his time, as the tradition of giving has evolved since then – no bad thing at all!

The tales of Christmases past remain in all of our minds, hopefully with mostly happy memories, although, don’t we know Christmas can bring out the worst in the tensions, hurts, divisions and differences, as well as the sadness of losses and absences, which can exist in families?  It is a special time, which should bring us together and encourage us to be people who take the message of peace and good will to heart in the way we reach out to those closest to us (It surely starts at home, doesn’t it?), and beyond, determined to make our world a better place.  This is what God’s Will, as it’s called, is all about, as I see it.

It all sounds nice and simple, but in reality, we know life is not, don’t we?

For a contemporary Christmas tale this year, I tell “e-mail: Jesus@Bethlehem” (by Hilary Robinson).  The gifts at the end sound very much like the fruits and gifts of the Spirit we highlight at Confirmation and beyond, of course!  Love, peace, compassion, caring, giving, sharing, understanding, humility, thoughtfulness, kindness and honesty (of which there’s not too much around in many circles today, with fake truth overshadowing the airwaves and social media!)

And so we acknowledge the mystery of Incarnation, our God coming among us as one of us, in the person of Jesus, as we experience and celebrate the joy, peace and good will of Christmas with gratitude in our hearts.

Feliz Natal (Portuguese), Joyeux Noel, Felix Navidad, Buon Natale, Nolag Sona Dibh (deev), Salamat Natal, Shengdan jie kuaile, Giang sinh vui ve, Ma, Vesele vanoce (Czech!) Kala Christogenna (Greek).

 

john hannon                                                                                25th   December  2019

 

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