At Christmas the Son of God came to earth in order to reorientate the human race. The birth of the child Jesus is a time of harmony with God and neighbours. God has always had a plan for renewal and conversion throughout human history. At Christmas the process takes a dramatic leap forward and the plan is revealed much more clearly. To be Christian is to be different. You are invited to play your part in a divine drama of making things right.
You are to become free from anxiety, greed and self-centredness, working together with Jesus for peace, justice and progress.
Let’s begin with peace. Jesus was born into a nation which was full of anxiety because of violence and conflict yet the manner of his birth is a direct challenge to anyone who claims that violence brings peace. You may have noted that recent films and documentaries are more realistic about the effects of violence. Law enforcers may use violent means to beat criminals but the end result is chaos, broken families, more injustice, the worst offenders escape and the criminality is displaced elsewhere. Violence is bleak midwinter for all. It arises out of fear of the enemy, real or supposed, out of greed for possessions, because leaders have big ideas about domination and won’t trust anyone, especially foreigners! In the end families are destroyed, the countryside is laid waste, injuries are lifelong, terror overwhelms whole populations, innocent suffer.
Some say we live in a world where anxiety eats away the soul. Yet, amazingly sometimes good comes out of evil. They say warfare has led to new inventions which help society later; world wars led to the liberation of women and recognition of their skills. Humanity can learn from its mistakes. Christmas is just such an opportunity to learn. Jesus was born into a revolutionary, violent world and his gospel gives Christians a new story to tell. His birth spoke to us of peace, harmony, joyfulness, care and support. The weapons of the spirit are prayer, compassion and non-violence. Pope Francis says that warfare is almost always futile and wrong. He asks us to pray for togetherness, conversation, wise planning, self-denial for the benefit of all. To celebrate Christmas is first of all to accept the joyful and demanding invitation to be a peacemaker at home and in society.
What about justice for the poor? Can greed be resisted? Trocaire economists argue that your investments in the future should be ecologically driven, taking care of the earth. You are asked to keep informed and invest in products that reduce carbon emissions and provide new ways for producing energy. In reducing consumption and waste you directly help less developed countries. In the past, greedy colonial exploitation meant the poor got poorer. We pray that this Christmas will be about rejoicing with the poor, joining them in a way forward together. Isn’t that why Jesus joined a poor community at Christmas?
What about progress and enlightenment? We live in an era of social revolutions. In Ireland there were prolonged campaigns to end discrimination against small minority groups and to give women equality. The positive aspiration was to halt discrimination against individuals of same sex attraction, our brothers and sisters, and to provide freedom of choice. But, truth to tell, there are huge negative consequences: the three-parent family, the use of surrogate mothers from poorer backgrounds, the false message that everyone can enjoy irresponsible free love. The spiritual teaching on marriage and family by Pope John Paul II is rejected. Vows are reinterpreted and children are made into commodities. Pope Francis advises that more clarity will come when telling the truth and showing love coincide.
We Christians learn from both Bible and Church to accompany all people here and now. We do well to support those who strive their best to follow Church teaching. They can be the best messengers of the gospel today, a gospel of life and love and fidelity to God’s word. We pray for the many families today who struggle, in difficult circumstances, to save children from being corrupted by pornography; we pray for religious groups who save women from trafficking, we pray for volunteers who save the unborn from being destroyed.
Progress is to be judged by how much we centre attention on helping the helpless. You may have seen the documentaries about the Irish Famine in the 1840s where children from poor families were allowed to die; they were condemned to die in huge numbers. It was always right for Irish people to object when children were given no chance at the beginning of life. That’s why Christians are so pro-life today.
Christmas tells the truth. The truth is that God became one of us because of his eternal interest in our welfare. Anxiety, greed and selfishness lead people astray. The first Christmas tells a story of peace, justice and progress where truth and love coincide. We see that the holy family didn’t always get what they wanted, materially, socially and politically. But their love and trust in God’s plan transformed attitudes and gave eternal light to the world. Our call, therefore, is to be powerful and inventive in the ways we work for peace, justice and progress. Progress means helping the poor and those who suffer from warfare. Justice means to live simply and so bless future generations. Peace is built on respect for cherished family laws and customs. May you all receive light and love from Jesus as you celebrate this feast today!