Christmas is a special time of year for most of us. There is a richness of life and colour. Hope is in the air. God is near. We hear sacred and joyful music. Even the most health-conscious among us tend to forgo self-discipline for family and work celebrations. And, of course, there are the joys of family and friends, of giving and receiving, community and friendship that are more poignant now than at any other time.
But while many experience these delights, others are overwhelmed by a deep loneliness and sadness at this time of year. Why? Perhaps because, while being reminded of the fullness of life and family, they instead find exposed empty spaces.
Christmas time is hard for many because we can struggle to negotiate this nearness of the bitter with the sweet, with all that we lack standing so close to this celebration of life and relationship. Yet such feelings are also an invitation to enter more deeply into the Gracious Mystery; for the emptiness we all feel at times can also be a gateway for celebrating its richness.
Christmas celebrates the Kairos moment, when Jesus Christ, in all his glory and innocence, becomes one of us and comes as close as you can get to our “messy” humanity. His birth was itself a cause of controversy. For Jesus was purposely conceived amid the sexual scandal of “illegitimacy”. “We were not born of prostitution” was the taunt of Jesus’ enemies, as narrated in John’s Gospel.
The first news of his birth was given to shepherds, among the lowest social outcasts in that culture. They were not trusted by the locals at all! Jesus was born in the most impoverished conditions – without anaesthetic, without medical assistance and amid animal waste.
Christmas therefore is a consoling reminder that God is finally with us in our brokenness and longing – our secret selfish desires, our depression, our family fights, our overeating, our obsession with giving gifts, our grief over loved ones lost, our aching desire for healing in broken relationships, our desire to reconcile with that family member after so many years. God is with us in all this and can identify with our pain and loss.
Christmas is for all of us. Yes, for those who already know this joy, but especially for those who do not. Let our prayer be that of Karl Rahner SJ: “We must be quiet and not fear the night, else we will hear nothing. For the ultimate message is uttered only in the night’s stillness ever since, through the gracious arrival of the Word into the night of our life, Christmas’ silent night, holy night came down among us.”
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.