The Christmas Story is fundamentally a story of ordinary people living their ordinary lives amid the challenges and opportunities of the times in which they live. We have Mary, a poor pregnant young Jewish girl. We have Joseph, the tradesman, her older husband. We have the requirements of the state of the day. Emperor Augustus who commanded a census of the whole people to be taken. We have them journey to their hometown to be registered. We have the search for accommodation, which leaves them taking refuge in a humble outhouse before the onset of childbirth and the arrival of a baby boy, their firstborn. We have the local visitors – shepherds who were tending their sheep nearby. It is a humble scene with seemingly nothing that unusual going on except for a rumour of some sort of heavenly message to the shepherds and of course a visit by those mysterious visitors from the East.
However, for Christians, it is precisely in the humble ordinariness of it all that God himself is gently making his kind presence felt in a manner that we might never think of or even imagine. There in a unique way, the creator of all that is takes on his human creation. There in the manger, the all-powerful God comes close to us in the self-effacing weakness of a new-born child. There the ultimate questions of life along with their definitive answers are found hidden in a child’s blanket. There, to paraphrase the words of John the Evangelist, God himself has mysteriously been made flesh and has come to dwell among us. (Jn 1)
Because of that first Christmas those many years ago, Christians – at least those Christians who stop to ponder – see God as a gentle positive divine presence living among the ordinary bits and often broken pieces of our everyday lives. God dwells now not in some far off distant realm. He is here! With us as we journey through the ups and the downs of our lives. He is with us even in these difficult days of seemingly endless antigen and PCR tests, days of isolation, days of great uncertainty and more restrictions. Within it all, his presence can, if we only allow it, bring light and joy and hope even to the oft-dark and troubled areas of our lives.
This year, once again, I would like to thank all those who have generously given of themselves in service of others during the year – our frontline workers, medical staff, teachers, priests, religious, parish volunteers, civic leaders and scientists. In so many ways, you have truly put a human face on the presence of God with us in these seemingly never-ending Covid days.
My wish for everyone this Christmas is that we may take that time to stop and ponder the immensely hidden depth of meaning that lies within this annual celebration of Christmas. I pray that in the process we may sense the hope giving and life-enhancing presence of God in the ordinary realities of our everyday lives.
Nollaig Naofa, Beannachtaí Íosa, Nollaig Chroíúil, is bliain nua mhaith.
Bishop of Clonfert
Loughrea, 22nd December 2021
Image Nativity, St Augustine’s Church, Clontuskert