Lk 2.1-20                       Is 9.1-7                 Titus 2.11-14

Rhyme Bible Intro: “The Special Baby” & “The Shepherds”

It seems to me that Christmas races in faster every year, as I face up to my 70th Christmas on the planet! At least we’ve had a week to prepare with the last long week.  The excitement and magic of the season remains for children always.  For adults, it can be a time of pressure and fuss.  I’ll never forget the tradesman saying he wishes Christmas would never come, and my surprise as a child, but then he explained that so many people wanted things done before Christmas that he had too much to do, and couldn’t keep everyone happy.

I’ll always treasure the anticipation and excitement that Christmas would bring to me, from my earliest childhood memories, always with that healthy combination of sacred and secular, as I see it, of looking forward to going to church, with the big Nativity scene up front near the altar, and Father Christmas coming overnight, on his trans-world sleigh cruise, with rocket powered reindeer!

On the secular side, Richard Glover, a Sydney writer, well describes this excitement: “The best thing about Christmas: the total and utter commitment of the under-sevens. The rest of us are just along for the ride. Of course, there’s fun to be had for all ages – even for those of us who are over 7, over 17, or over 70 (that’s me!!). We’ll shake and prod the parcels, though shaking and prodding had been expressly forbidden, and make outlandish suggestions about what might be inside…We’ll indulge in our own magical thinking – not so much Santa, but rather that the toy will always come with batteries included; that the servo won’t be sold out of ice, though we’ve left it to Christmas morning; that Uncle Trevor will keep his appalling political views to himself”!!

But now, on the sacred or spiritual side, here we are at church, taking a bit of time out to reflect on what they tritely say is the reason for the season.  We’ve just passed the longest day, with the summer solstice, or shortest day of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.  Historically, the Christians hijacked the pagan winter festival by overlaying Christmas on it, not such a bad move, really!

While it’s a simple human story, our faith is that the coming of Jesus marked a turning point in human history, with God moving in on humanity as one of us, certainly a test of faith, but a powerful reflection of his presence among us in Jesus, whose influence and ongoing presence still guides us today. Why else would we be gathered here to celebrate together as a faith community, where we reflect on the mysteries of birth and life.

It took till the 12th century for Francis of Assisi to think up the Nativity scene we have here now, and it certainly took off from there, didn’t it?  His appreciation for all of Creation is focussed on the light of this lovely simple portrayal of the birth of a helpless baby, surrounded by loving, nurturing parents Mary and Joseph, dirty old shepherds and quiet, observant animals around the manger.  The message is universal, a call to peace and good will for all.

And, of course, there is the over-riding them of love and warmth all around, despite the apparent poverty and simplicity of the scene.

Yet, we look around at our troubled world, and wonder why there is such misunderstanding,  and conflict over 2,000 years on since this pivotal event.  The war in Ukraine rages on, with no end in sight, and in other parts of the world, hostilities continue as well.  We can be thankful we live in a peaceful part of the world, where differences can be accepted and disputes resolved with mutual dialogue and compromise, without physical violence, generally speaking.

Every Christmas Eve,  I go back to 1968, when Apollo 8 astronauts circled the moon and read from Genesis about the beauty and wonder of the Earth, in the dark void of space, with the backdrop of the expanding Universe.  It’s a clear reminder of our responsibility to protect our precious planet and its finite resources!  Pope Francis emphasizes this in Laudato si, his encyclical on nature and the environment, the web of life of which we are all part, and not disconnected as superior beings.

The preciousness and fragility of life is another aspect of the Christmas scene, as we see Jesus taking on humanity in a very ordinary way, protected by parents committed to raising him until he takes on his own individual mission.  It all takes time for growth and independence, reminding us that God’s plan requires human co-operation and initiative, as reflected in Mary’s saying yes and entering into the mystery as the model and faithful disciple, while Joseph likewise moves forward with her as protector and provider, despite his initial reservations and doubts. It’s not as if all is revealed at once.  This is where their example shows us the way to grow in faith, living lives where we take personal responsibility, committed to spreading the message of love and peace and good will, by who we are as faithful disciples.

And Christmas is a tough time for some, where families are divided, conflicts unresolved, hurts unforgiven, and the sadness of loss and death,  This past year I have had near 70 funerals, celebrating lives lived, but also acknowledging sorrow and enduring grief, yet tempered by faith, gratitude and happy memories..  Our thoughts are with those whose Christmas is clouded by such realities, and that’s the case for us all in some way or other.

And so we gather as faithful people of peace and good will, impelled to spread the message in the broader world, starting at home.

And I have a Christmas story to conclude, “Jesus’ Christmas Party” (by Nicholas Allan).

Happy Christmas to all, and thanks for joining us here at St Therese’s in Essendon. May peace, good will and love prevail in our hearts and families throughout the years to come.

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).

 john hannon                                                                         25th  December  2022

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