Around the world in these pre-Christmas days children are wrapping themselves in towels and sheets and playing Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds and Magi in nativity plays. It’s a good thing to do since today’s gospel account of the angel’s visit to Mary, the journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem cave is the reason for the season of Christmas.
There’s something about Christmas that corrects our thinking to focus on life as giving, at least for the festive days of generosity and good-will to all. But when the towels are returned to the linen cupboard and the Christmas decorations are back in the box, is there any lasting fruit of our celebration?
Too often the annual Christmas celebration comes and goes like a brief annual reprieve from the routine and demands of the year.
But if this is all that Christmas means for us we have missed the point of the event which is the turning point of all human history: From the moment of the first Christmas we no longer say God is up there or God is with them, or God was with us, but (quoting today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah we now live with a new perspective and prayer: “God is with us”
However we often don’t feel close to God. This is where our thinking is stinking. Feelings are important, but more than we might acknowledge, our feelings can be determined by our thinking:
- If I think that losing my job is evidence that I’m useless at everything, then I will be devastated. But if I consider that being laid off is a an opportunity for me to find work that is more suited to my ability, energy and interests, then I can quickly feel excited by the adventure of considering new possibilities.
- If I think that a health challenge is a guarantee of prompt and painful death, then I will feel traumatised. But if this unwanted event causes me to thank God (or my lucky stars) that i now have good medical care and a prompt to watch my diet and get some exercise then I will feel grateful for the wake-up call.
The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the biggest wake-up call in history, a call full of hope and promise.
The one who understands that the birth of Jesus is God now living among us no longer lives to please and appease a distant God, but instead finds God as saviour in the exhaustion and passions of flesh and blood daily life.
The one who accepts that Jesus suffered and died and was raised from the dead no longer sees human suffering and death as problems to be avoided, but as the pathway to our own resurrection from the dead.
A personal note
I want to let FFF readers know that I have a new appointment for next year.
After many years with parish ministry as my primary priestly mission, the past 20 months living in Christchurch with a variety of ministries (retreats & seminars, Food For Faith, Spiritual Direction, Vocations work, National Liturgy Office, and looking for opportunities to work with people who may feel distant from the church) has been a great blessing for me.
Just as I was beginning to look forward to even more opportunities provided by our Christchurch diocesan Our Faith Our Future restructure I have been asked to take on the role of Spiritual Director at Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland. I will leave Christchurch in January to take up the Holy Cross appointment.
When I was asked to take on this role my own stinking thinking served up a few good reasons why I might say no to the request. But my past experience, the example of others, and today’s gospel willingness of Mary to say yes when she was not sure what the yes would entail has given me a confidence that my happiness is found in going wherever God leads.
Pray for me.
Gratefully, In Christ
O Antiphon: 20 December
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni,
et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel!
You open and no one closes,
You close and no one opens:
Come and lead us from the house of bondage
the captive who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.