CHRISTMAS HOMILY YEAR B 2023
A TIME OF MIXED THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS IN A TROUBLED WORLD
Lk 1.26-38, 19-28 2 Sam 7.1-5,8-12,14,16 Rom 16.25-27
Rhyme Bible Intro: “The Special Baby” & “The Shepherds”
Now who said this recently, in a cartoon titled “AWAY IN A MANGER”? (Show Leunig cartoon)
“Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. He was a Jewish Palestinian too. He realized he was a. child of God. Same for you, he said, how sweetly odd.
Love your enemies, he also said, which turned the local culture on its head. He was a light in all the fear and gloom. Some would say he couldn’t read the room.
And yet we celebrate his birth by stopping, from work, then drinking beer and shopping. Or seeing in the earth and stars anew. This little baby Palestinian Jew. (Leunig)
Here we have a rather unsubtle reflection of the craziness of focussing on human differences, rather than our common humanity on a small planet, increasingly occupied by more of us, such that they project peak human population of over 10 billion will be reached in 2086, expanding from 8 billion at present. So let’s try to understand each other and get on together.
I’ve always loved Christmas, from my earliest memories. It has always evoked anticipation and excitement, wherever I have been, at all stages of my life. As a priest for 45 years, I find it one of the most enjoyable feasts, where we come together to celebrate and remember the significance of the occasion, and not just the glitz and glitter of the bright lights and presents, even though I also believe these things all help uplift the spirits.
And my Christmas collection of singing and dancing toys, from Santas to reindeer to trees and the like, has multiplied over the years, as I am fascinated by the diversity, even if the songs can be a bit repetitive and wearing, even annoying, if you hear them often enough, every time I come in the door!! (If you stay to the end, you might even see one or two or more!)
Once again, I go back to Christmas 1968, when I was 16, and Apollo 8 left Earth’s gravity to circle the moon at Christmas, and the iconic images of “The Blue Planet” and “Earthrise” were taken, and the astronauts read from Genesis. To me it’s a sobering reminder to all of us, of the need to preserve and protect and respect this precious planet, and its resources and wonder, in the void or emptiness and darkness of space, amid the stars of the expanding universe.
And in the faith dimension, here we are, reflecting on the spirit of Christmas, a time of peace and good will, simplicity and joy, but in a world divided by conflict and misunderstanding, paradoxically particularly at the heart of what we celebrate here and now. Jerusalem is a sacred place for the 3 major monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, yet currently a hotbed of hatred, violence and misunderstanding. We can only look on and hope and pray for a peaceful resolution sooner than later, but wonder how this can happen, given the apparent impotence of the United Nations.
Meanwhile, we seek to live out the spirit of what Christmas should be in our own lives. Where there have been differences and misunderstandings in families, it can be a difficult and sad time. Life is too short to carry grudges about what has gone wrong in the past, and who might have hurt us. It can also be a difficult time for those who’ve lost loved ones, especially during this past year. Happy memories can help sustain us, and cushion the sadness and loss, but the gap is always there.
We talk about making the world a better place, but do we act on this ourselves? It’s all very well to have lovely thoughts and wishes, but nothing is going to improve without action in a forward direction.
So much is written about Christmas, as a time for families, but what about those who have no family, and what about those who are estranged. It can be a very painful time from the perspective of such individuals. Christmas movies, TV or video specials, stories, generally present a positive perspective of celebration and festivity together, apart, perhaps from “Bad Santa” with Billy Bob Thornton (but even that gives us a bit of a laugh!).
For me, Charles Dickens’ Christmas Tale has always evoked vivid memories of miserable Scrooge, warned and haunted by his ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, that his selfish and grasping attitude was what was weighing him down, but his conversion comes about through Tiny Tim’s cheerful spirit, and once he engages with the Cratchit family, in their simplicity, finds happiness and a softer heart, with all smiles to Tiny Tim’s final salutation, “Merry Christmas, everyone”.
Then of course, there’s my old favourite, Doctor Seuss’s Grinch, who steals all the presents from the Whos of Whoville, but yet can’t steal their communal spirit of enjoying coming together to share whatever they have, even if the presents are gone. And he wakes up to realize maybe Christmas is more than what you can get from a store, and then, when he finally joins in the feast, he, yes, he himself, even carves the roast beast!!
The words Scrooge and Grinch have gone into our lexicon, as negative terms for miserly individuals who find no happiness or satisfaction in whatever they have anyway. At the same time, there’s always time for a change of heart, as these stories tell us.
Into the dark world of materialism and selfishness comes the simple picture of a helpless infant, in Baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem in simple circumstances. The faith dimension is of a loving God who comes among us in the person of Jesus, who is immersed in the whole human experience, Mary his mother a quiet faithful loving presence in the foreground, with Joseph supportive in the background, accepting of the mystery, and fiercely protective of them, in difficult circumstances. Simplicity, peace, love and life are what this child is all about, bringing light from darkness and hope for the future.
The simple, silent shepherds appear first on the scene, symbolic of those on the outer being welcomed into the picture. Then the so-called wise men on their journey from the east, come later, symbolic of the universal nature of this child’s presence and message.
May we take the spirit of Christmas to hear and live out the peace and goodwill of the season throughout the year, through the ups and downs of life that we all face.
My Christmas story this year is one which reflects the spirit, with modern social media, titled “e-mail: Jesus@Bethlehem” (by Hilary Robinson). “Communications may have changed, but Jesus’ message remains the same.” The gifts on the last page sum it up, much like the fruits of the Spirit: “love, peace, kindness, thoughtfulness, honesty, understanding, humility, compassion, sharing, caring, giving, forgiving”, as we keep trying, don’t we?!
Joyeux Noel, Felix Navidad, Buon Natale, Nolag Sona Dibh (deev), Salamat Natal, Shengdan jie kuaile, Giang sinh vui ve, Maligayang Pasko, Zalig Kezstfest, Frohe Weihnachten, Vesele vanoce (Czech!) Kala Christogenna (Greek), Sretan Bozic (Croatian).
So it’s a happy Christmas, and a Happy, healthy and safe New Year in 2024 to all.
john hannon 24th-25th December 2023
And a few afterthoughts:
Bill Uren SJ has a good reflection on our Christmas faith for Christmas 2022:
“No, he didn’t tiptoe daintily through our human condition, but he identified with us, a God with skin on, and insinuated gently in his Sermon on the Mount that it was not power and influence, but love and vulnerability that were the key to a worthwhile life.”
And, from 2010, Richard Glover has :
“A gentle reminder as to why they call it the silly season… The record companies are determined to help. They’ve already sold their body weight in Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, so now it’s the era of the odd Christmas record. The Sex Pistols sing The Little Drummer Boy, Snoop Dogg does White Christmas and Kevin Rudd sings Six White Boomers in the original Mandarin!… British to the core as we shovel down the roast beef and plum pudding, upending whole carafes of red wine down our throats and doing our best to set fire to the curtains as we ignite the plum pudding!… Christmas cheer!”
So, not to overmoralize, but let’s all be careful and moderate as we celebrate!!