The following is a joint Christmas message issued by the Bishops of Clogher, John McDowell and Liam McDaid:
For mothers and fathers Christmas has to begin early. There are a lot of preparations to be made and expectations to be met. There is a general awareness of the times being tough but children don’t find it easy to see how that could affect Santa Claus and his legendary bag of plenty. No one wants to leave children with the fear that the current economic situation could decimate the Christmas tree and wreak havoc on the Christmas table. It may be a frightening and stressful reality for mothers and fathers making plans over a cup of tea when the children are asleep and it may furrow many a brow scanning the price of items in November shop windows.
Christmas Cards along with Shop and Public Christmas Scenes are well sanitized and decorated especially if they are part of a promotional effort; the scruffy, the shoddy and the tawdry are not going to help sales. The original events that inspired the Christmas scenes did not receive the same manicure. Mary and Joseph were living out of a suitcase and it all seems to have happened somewhat unexpectedly. Arrangements and bookings had not been made. Whatever about wise men travelling from the East, shepherds do not usually dress up for work, and animals like cows and mules are not the most congenial of house guests even if they do bring the level of warmth up a notch. The manger may have been a feeding station for animals, dressed up.
Jesus Christ came into human existence in this raw setting by all accounts. He did have a mother’s love, a father’s care and God’s protection. It was hardly an accident that God came in this way into our brokenness, our flaws, and our limitations. He wanted to be with us as we are. He had come to heal our brokenness, not to disguise it or paint over it; to feed our hunger, not to deny it. It was not a piece of stage drama, the Word was truly and authentically to live among us. We were to be shown how love could survive on a cross and forgiveness overcome the pain of thorns and betrayal.
In one of his stories Dostoyevsky describes the coming of Christmas in a Siberian camp. Through barred windows the prisoners could see a small Cathedral on a hill the other side of town. When the Cathedral Service was over the priest came to a crude altar in the prison. “God has come to us,” the convicts said. “This is where he lives all year long,” said the priest, “he goes to the Cathedral only on special occasions.” Jesus wanted to be close to us so he came among the small and the straw.
For all who are troubled and maybe feeling burdened or broken by life’s daily challenges, not to speak of the extra demands at this time of year, would it be a help to exchange the manicured for the real? Leave aside the cards, the presents and the extras for a few days and instead talk and listen to the one whose birth we are planning to celebrate. He has things to say to us that could change our perspective, lessen our worries as we count our blessings and he could show us how celebrating the simpler, long-lasting and more precious gifts of life and living can make for a different but ultimately more satisfying experience of Christmas joy and togetherness. It just means getting back to reality, the reality that Christ the Son of God was born, lived among us and taught us where lasting treasures are to be found. God direct us in our search and bring us peace.
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