In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we read that when God made the world he was happy because it was very good. But the goodness didn’t last and the greed, selfishness, anger, jealousy brought about in time a broken world …..
The stable at Bethlehem with its infant in the arms of Mary and Joseph was God’s Plan B to repair and renew this broken world. This time around there was no grand gesture – no sun, stars, moon, all creation in harmony but a little baby to touch our hearts, calling for love, acceptance, a home in our hearts.
In our worldly wisdom we sometimes echo those who doubt and say how could a helpless child be the answer to the million things that are wrong in our world – the divisions between nations, religions, families, individuals; the brutality, the killings we have every day in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic; the terrible greed that demands all and shares nothing, the hearts that are closed to the biting poverty and the persecution that abounds in so many parts of our world; the minds closed to the reality of the homeless, of the 123 who had nowhere to go last night in Cork City. But this is God’s way not man’s.
If we heard of a birth like this today, tears would come to our eyes, and we’d have a news story, “Such a shame, such a tragedy.” But the birth of this child – Emmanuel (God-with-us) is not the tragedy of a poor family in a miserable setting but a sign of hope from God for a sad world; from the little glimmer of light in the stable would shine light onto a dark world that so badly needed the light of trust, of caring for those in need, of love, of being peace-bearers and peace-makers. Jesus who is God-with-us is our light and our hope and as John says: he is “the light that shines in the darkness, which the darkness cannot overcome” no matter how dark things become and how helpless we feel. We know this because we are celebrating the feast of God who took our human flesh and our human condition to live as we do in weakness and dependence.
It is a glorious night for us and our world, not just for today and tomorrow when we’re full of Christmas greetings and celebration but for every day we live because God is truly with us and within us and, through us, hope and love will touch and bless all those we meet. The work that began with the manger in Bethlehem is not complete with our singing of “Silent Night” and “Come all ye faithful” – much remains and each day we try to do our share.
What God is telling us through this infant is that our journeys begin with a single step and that it is not necessarily through the great plans of governments and institutions that suffering, poverty, loneliness, broken lives, hunger, war, violence and hatred will be done away with but through our openness to our brothers and sisters in shared weakness.
In the midst of the materialism that is our modern-day Christmas remembering this tiny child born into poverty in a strange town helps us to get our priorities right – to realise that material things don’t matter and that it is the real values of love, hope, trust, reconciliation that are important. God chose the way of weakness, of simplicity, of powerlessness, to challenge the values of the world. Person to person, family to family, community to community is how this works – not in miracles, in mind-boggling gestures but in little ways and as the infant grew to be a man so too will the little things done in love change the face of the earth and one day there will truly be peace on earth.
And so in the company of shepherds and angels, we sing. In the face of sorrow, we sing of joy. In the shadow of war, we sing of peace. We glorify and praise God for all we have heard and seen, for our hopes and fears are in our new-born Saviour. Thanks be to God!
Fr Eddie O’Connor SMA