St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
The stories of the Christmas events are etched in most people's minds – even if they aren't regular church-goers. People have memories from school plays, childhood events, Christmas cards and carol services. Today we celebrate our belief that it is not just a series of cute vignettes but part of larger story about who we are – and story that goes from Bethlehem to Calvary. The Mary, who was told that a sword would pierce her soul, knew that very well.
My first point is this. Over Christmas, we will watch many films – real, animated and increasingly with computer generated images. We can end up crying or getting angry at box in the corner, because of what we call the willing suspension of disbelief. We pretend that what we see on the screen is real and are drawn into it. Christmas mass and the crib can be in that category. It is cute and the adults can pretend we do it only for the children. The whole experience can portray the narrative as a sort of holy Mary Poppins film. Lovely but just a distraction from reality. Good for a sing-along but quickly forgotten. In the midst of bad news, it can be attractive to be 'distracted from distraction by distraction'. (TS Eliot)
The Christmas liturgy is not asking for a willing suspension of disbelief but asking whether we actually believe in something. What does this story tell us, and what do we tell the children? Will this Christmas just be relegated to the junk-room of your personal history, just a memory like a good night out, pleasant but ultimately meaningless.- Do you believe that there is a God who Loves you; Is concerned about this world; Is stronger than the worst that human beings can do to one another? When you go to crib, let Mary tell you 'This is real'. Christmas is a story written by adults for adults.There is a good story to be told about the world. Listen for the adult story that nourishes the child in you.
Secondly, Christmas is not just a statement that that God exists, somewhere, out there, making a list of our misdemeanours.Life is messy. Lots of people scarred by family, partners, life. Christmas tells me that God is with you in the messiness of your life, in the smelly stables of this country. Despite the nice story and the clean bright angels, this is an uncomfortable picture of God, not floating around in heaven, but in the midst of poverty, failure, neglect, abuse, in a stable while the hotels were full of those who could not recognise himWhen you go to crib, let Mary tell you 'God is here with you. Despite the voices all around that don't have eyes to see or ears to hear him, listen for God in the child and in the angels who say, I bring you news of great joy.' There was fun in the inns that were full in Bethlehem, but there was joy in the stable. Be open to discover joy and not just fun.
Thirdly, with the modern demotion of God to the margins, the wishes of the adult have become quasi-divine and assumed to be infallible.- A want has become a need.- I want to, therefore I have the right to have.- I am the author of good and evil, it is right for me.- Don't criticise my choices.Little Jesus tells us that the baby is precious beyond measure, that the comfort and wishes of the adult are not everything, that the awkward little inconvenient child can be the place where God is most presentKing Herod will try to kill the child and sacrifice others to suit himself. Too many children and adults are sacrificed to suit the powerfulWhen you go to the crib, let Mary tell you, 'love life, protect family – even when it is imperfect, God is often especially present in the awkward little ones. Love the child and let the child of Bethlehem love the hurting child in you.'I hope you can savour Christmas with all its joys and pains.
Give thanks for the good things. Where there are problems, remember, Jesus faced them too from the first moments of his life. God is in the midst of the embarrassing pregnancy, the rejection by the crowd and the persecution by a powerful tyrant.Christmas tells me to be grateful for the gifts I already have and to be at peace in the midst of the trials. Jesus, Mary and Joseph will tell us that this is the best way to have a really happy Christmas.