Christmas 2013

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The angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David, a saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord”.

In the joy of this night we contemplate once again the wonder of the birth of our saviour, Jesus Christ. We are drawn to the simplicity of the crib: the child Jesus, his mother Mary and the faithful Joseph. The scene is a stable, because there was nowhere else for them to stay. There is a calm and a beauty. There is wonder and peace. Our hearts are touched. How can we not marvel at this scene.

We know we are beholding a mystery. Not just the mystery of life, of the birth of a new human being (which is always a wondrous thing). We know that this scene reveals God coming among us. Emmanuel, God is with us.

Thus did God enter the world. Thus did God choose to enter the world.

The word most commonly used to describe the nature of Christ is the word, saviour. I would like to reflect upon this word, saviour.

Very simply the word proposes to us that God became man for one central purpose: to save us. To save us from what? Do we need saving? Can’t we manage by ourselves? We probably like to think we can. So why do we need a saviour?
We don’t have to look far to see that humanity needs saving. Left to our own devices we are not doing a very good job. We all know the struggles of human existence. We all know that pain, hurt, personal suffering, injustice and lack of compassion abound in humanity. Thus it has always been. While we try to make the best of things, it is true that shadows fall over our lives in all sorts of ways. What hurts most is when it is the product of the words and actions of others.

There is a word to describe this reality. The word is sin. Human beings – each of us – sin. We know we fail in love and compassion. We know that at times we are wilful and vengeful. Despite our best intentions we do not live as we should.

The effects of sin are all around us. In our own families there is the pain of broken relationships. Our society is burdened by human failure and suffering. At times human beings become capable of the most horrendous of actions.  We are capable of great evil. This is the sad state of things. Human beings need help.

God has acted to save humanity.

When we consider this the first point worth emphasising is that God who dwells in glory and splendour chose to intervene in human history. He has not abandoned us to our own fate. He has not just looked on at our faltering efforts. What parent would not seek to intervene in the life of their child whose path is a path of destruction. So too the heart of God reaches out to us in our brokenness. God is a God of mercy and compassion. This is his very nature. God, as St John constantly reminds us, is love. This is who God is.
His intervention though is radical in the extreme. God had sent prophets to correct and guide. Their message was rarely responded to. God has now acted decisively: He has sent his own Son. God has actually entered this broken human condition and is like us in all things but sin, as St Paul said. The birth at Bethlehem is striking evidence that God is prepared to share the vulnerability and fragility of humanity. He could have come in majesty and splendour. He could have come to establish himself in authority and power. He chose instead to come in the most insignificant of ways – born into homelessness, in a stable.

How does God then act to save? In a number of ways.
The first aspect of his coming among us is that in Christ we see what humanity is really meant to be. Christ models true humanity. He reveals a number of striking virtues held in wonderful balance: humility and leadership, compassion and truth, mercy and authoritative moral teaching, service and courage. He is the perfect model of humanity. Here is what human beings are meant to be like.

Secondly, Jesus reveals the power of God to heal and restore. He heals those who are sick and disabled. God has not only the will to save, he has the power to save. Jesus not only shows compassion but he alleviates suffering.
Finally, Jesus will engage in the supreme act of reconciliation between God and man. He will offer himself to his Father in sacrifice. From the cross he cries out, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing”. He offers himself as an atoning sacrifice.

Several moments during Christ’s time of public ministry reveal his deepest desire. Like when the paralytic is lowered through the roof and he says, “your sins are forgiven”. People suffer physical disabilities, but he knows the deeper disability is that of sin. Sin cripples the human heart and dulls the human spirit. All Jesus wants is to free people from what is disabling their lives.

He wants finally to free us from the last enemy of humanity: death. His death and his resurrection has saved us from the power of death. We are promised eternal life in and through Christ.

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Today we look in at the humble and attractive scene in the stable. We pause in quiet wonder – God has chosen to come among us, and this is how he has chosen to do it.

And we wonder further: he has come for one purpose – to save us. He has embraced what he has created that what he has created will not be lost. He has come to raise us up. He has come to set us free. He has come to give us life.

My brothers and sisters, let us contemplate in the quiet of our hearts the words of the angels: “Today in the town of David, a saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord”.

Within our hearts let us invite him to be our saviour. Jesus be born in my heart, save me and raise me up. I trust in you.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013