On this morning of Christmas Eve the given Gospel reading is no surprise. It’s both familiar and predictable. There’s an angel (Gabriel), a young woman (Mary), an announcement (from God) and some news about Cousin Elizabeth experiencing God doing the impossible (she is old and pregnant).
But it’s the second reading which is speaking most deeply to me: “the revelation of a mystery kept secret for endless ages, but now so clear that it must be broadcast.”
A month ago as we began these Advent reflections I was returning from a three-day parish mission in Winton, about half an hour from Invercargill. You might remember I wrote about chatting with the students at St. Thomas Aquinas Primary School about growing vegetables.
I have been harvesting my own little vege crops since then. Unfortunately some hungry worms got into my big-hearted lettuces. I’ve had more luck fixing my lawn after a grass-grub attack earlier in the year.
My lawn repair began with broadcasting.
To broadcast: “To scatter seeds by hand or machine rather than placing in drills or rows.”
It’s a great word “broadcast”. We use it for radio and TV – because media broadcasters have no idea where their words will scatter or what will come of the ideas and comments they share.
It’s a bit like these FFF daily reflections. My prayer as I begin to write each day’s reflection is that just one person might be helped by something I share.
Most often the one person who is helped is me through the process of being still and silent, listening for Jesus, thinking about and learning from those I have met in recent hours and days, and then writing.
The process of preparing these reflections helps me to live more reflectively. It’s good for me.
In these days when (as a priest) I get so caught up in a popular church emphasis on evangelisation of others I can easily forget that I am the one who is being redeemed in each moment and every encounter. God has broadcast life-saving hope-bestowing messages for me everywhere, all over the place, and especially in the most unwanted circumstances and unlikely (there goes my unhelpful bias) people.
While I am encouraged every day by people for whom the church institution is a weekly and even daily nourishment, increasingly I am inspired by the Christ-centred lives of those who feel unworthy or wanted in the Church and who, for many well-considered reasons may keep their distance.
Perhaps this is the mystery kept secret for endless ages. God prefers the peripheries since most often this is where the meek and gentle find themselves. Pope Francis takes this even further: “I am convinced of one thing: the great changes in history were realised when reality was seen not from the centre but rather from the periphery.”
And please God these are the people we find ourselves with among family and friends over these days.
So relax and let God use the people you spend time with over these days, those you like, and those you find more difficult, all of them, especially the most unlikely. to sow seeds of more mature faith, hope and love in you this Christmas.
Here is a grace you might like to use at your Christmas meal this year.
A Grace before Christmas Dinner
One of the more senior people
at the dinner begins saying:
Before we share this Christmas meal together,
Let us take a moment of silent prayer
to give God thanks
for all the blessings we have received this year
and for the burdens we bear, shared and personal.
A moment of silent reflection follows
Then the leader continues
Let us remember those
we have shared Christmas with in past years,
those who have died,
and also those who are not able to be with us today
because of distance and illness and Covid restrictions.
Let us now share aloud
the names of those we especially wish to remember.
Those at table take a moment
to share the names of those
they wish to remember.
When the names have been shared
a candle is lit in the centre of the table
(perhaps by one of the children).
Then the leader prays
May the light of this candle
lead us to Christ
who overcomes every darkness.
And for what we receive in this meal,
the food, drink, and family and friendship,
let us be deeply grateful.
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