Mar 18, 2011, 1:46 PM
1 ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and his name shall be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. These words of the Prophet Isaiah were spoken abut 700 years before the coming of Christ. At that time, the northern kingdom of Israel had been attacked by the armies of Assyria and many of its people were taken back there as prisoners . The words of the prophet were intended for those who had been left behind. However, some 700 years would pass before his message would be fulfilled at least partially. This is what we celebrate as the birth of the promised Messiah each Christmas. And now almost 2000 years later have elapsed since His first coming. But unfortunately:
Millions of people have still never heard the Good News of the Gospel message. Millions of others have heard it but are unable to believe. ‘It’s too good to be true’, many would say. Millions again have heard and believed. However, I should often ask myself WHAT do I truly believe? HOW does this impact on the way I live? God became man….yes! God loved the world so much that he gave us his only Son. Yes. And by doing so he took no shortcuts. In fact, he had to face many unexpected diversions as soon as he was born: his birth in Bethlehem; his flight into Egypt. If there had been no Roman census, all this could have been avoided. But he accepted all these conditions that are part of sharing in our human lives.
2. A little girl was staring quietly at the baby in a crib. Her father was with her. After a while, the little girl broke the silence and whispered to her Dad: ‘I wonder if God enjoys being a baby’? The power of wonder…This was the key to unlocking the many questions that were going through her little mind. Mary ‘pondered’ in her heart the same mystery, we are told. Unto us a child is born…Unless you change and become as a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom. ‘Father, I praise you for revealing these things to mere children…’. Did God come to us because he had a passion…. to share with us our frail human condition in all its beauty as well as its darkness and shadows. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Yes, God became man because he wanted to see us and to be seen by us; to touch us and to be touched by us; to understand us as much as to be understood by us.
St. Francis of Assisi created the first crib in a cave in a small village called Greccio in the mountains of central Italy. The people of the village gathered on that first Christmas night in the presence of the crib. The shepherds came in from their fields. One of St. Francis’ companions wrote later about his experience of the joy and the peace that overflowed in their hearts on that night when they celebrated the birth of Jesus around the first crib. This is what he wrote: simplicity was honored; poverty was exalted; and humility was glorified. Ever since the birth of Jesus, Christians from all walks of life and in all ages, have tried to penetrate the mystery of Emmanuel / God with us. It began with Mary herself as she pondered over the child she carried in her arms; then there was St. Francis and his followers who chose the words simplicity, poverty and humility to describe their experience of the mystery which we call the Incarnation. Then there was the little girl who asked herself ‘I wonder if God enjoys being a baby’? Each of these was an attempt to hold together the mystery of our God who became a man like us in such unbelievable conditions.
3. As we celebrate this joyful feast once again in this year 2011, I would like to invite you to sit down quietly during this holy season and ask yourself two questions: what DO I believe? In what way does this part of my faith touch my life or my lifestyle as a disciple of Christ? Christmas can come and go so quickly each year. We are caught up in our daily work, in the ordinary cares of life along with all the extra ‘preparations’ that are part of this busy season. These things have their proper place as long as they don’t exclude or REPLACE our need to look at the awesome mystery that beckons us to dig deeper into the things that really matter: the beauty and the majesty of the omnipotent God clothed in the weakness and frailty of a tiny baby? ‘Martha, Martha, you are busy about many things; but only one is necessary and Mary has chosen the better part’. It is so easy to become stagnant in our faith. If it stops growing then it begins to die….I invite you to bring a child or two to visit the crib in your Church or in some other place. You might choose to give them a little explanation about what they see; or you might decide to let them look on their own; and they might end up surprising you by their comments or questions!!
Holy child of Bethlehem, born in a stable; help us to remember all those children living in poverty or even abandoned by their parents. Holy child of Bethlehem, whom Herod sought to kill; help us to remember all those holy innocents of our own time who suffer abuse or neglect in so many different ways.
Holy child of Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt; help us to care for all those children who are forced to live far away from their homes.
May the God of love bless all of you, your families and our nation this Christmas with his gift of peace and happiness? AMEN.
MOST REVEREND ROBERT P ELLISON CSSp
BISHOP OF BANJUL