Christmas 2012

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page
Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

Quite understandably, the scene of the Birth of Jesus has proved to be one of the most popular subjects for the artists down through the centuries. There would be countless depictions of the Birth of Jesus, but some of them are better remembered, most likely because of the fame and popularity of the artist.

One such painting is by the famous Italian painter of the 13th century, Giotto. It is now on display in a chapel in the Italian city of Padua. In this scene, Mary is lying at full stretch on a bed, recovering after just giving birth to Jesus. The mid-wife is about to pass over to Mary the newly-born child for the first time. The usual witnesses are there, St. Joseph, who looks as if he might be asleep, the shepherds and the animals.

There is a look on Mary’s face which suggests that the road ahead for her and for this child is not going to be very easy. Mary seems to be on her own, with a sad and longing look of anticipation on her face. But she is still a figure of serenity in the midst of the darkness.

At this Christmas time we sing such popular carols as “Joy to the World” and such phrases as “Peace on Earth and mercy mild” but the older we become, the more of a challenge it is to see how they fit in with the world we have come to know.

Out there on the world stage, there are the natural disasters that occurred in Samoa and Fiji in recent weeks, the recent hostilities in the land where Jesus actually lived, the ongoing fighting in Syria to name just a few. Then here locally, while we are/were/will celebrate Midnight Mass, there are people out there sleeping rough, very likely because of the power of addictions such as alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Each of us could name a few issues in our own personal lives which have impacted heavily upon us during the past year.

But for all that, Christmas is very special and certainly unique. It is the still the most potent story ever told. God comes down from heaven, takes on the form of a human person, and ultimately ends all suffering. The story has altered the entire course of human history, and the power of it is unrivalled.

Christmas is not a magical event, something like a Cinderella story. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ into lives that are weak, vulnerable, incomplete and needy. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus into these things, not his removal of them. Christmas is a challenge to celebrate while things are still not complete.

It is interesting to note how that Gospels tells us clearly that Jesus was born in a barn and then laid into the feeding trough of the animals. The writers want us to take these symbols seriously.  Barns don’t look like cathedrals and animals don’t smell like incense. There is a brute earthiness about a barn which you don’t get in a church.

As for the feeding trough, that makes sense as well. One of the main purposes of the life of Jesus was to end up giving himself as food in the Eucharist.

The incarnation does not promise us heaven on earth. It promises heaven in heaven. Here on earth, it promises us something else – God’s presence in our lives. It is that presence that empowers us to give up any bitterness we may have, to forgive and to move beyond the boundaries of looking after our own interests first of all.

If we return to the scene of Giotto’s painting for a moment, we realise that while Mary gave birth to the baby, what she ultimately gave the worlld was the adult Jesus. Like all mothers, she had to spend years nursing, cajoling, teaching and nurturing an infant into adulthood.

What Mary did, each of us is called up to do, namely, to give birth to God in our lives. Christmas is a moment to marvel at what once took place, but it is also a time to confirm our commitment to continue to give God flesh in the world. God has to be born into the world in the same way as Mary did all those years ago at the first Christmas.