Sunday, December 27, 2009


I guess it's human nature to want everything to be "just perfect" - in spite of the fact that every man, woman and child experiences life as a combination of joy and pain. There are no exceptions. Not one!

In fact, I want you to notice that the Bible goes out of its way to emphasise this mingling of joy and pain when talking about the first Christmas.

Think of Mary who has to tell her fiance that the child within her is not his. Think of trying to convince one's betrothed that the pregnancy is due to nothing less than the power of God! (God himself had to help convince Joseph!)

Think of the arduous journey to Bethlehem, the circumstances of the birth among animals in the cave.

Think of the Holy Family trudging to Egypt as refugees, and staying there for two years, until it was safe to go home.

Think of the blood that ran in the streets of Bethlehem, and the wailing of inconsolable parents when all the baby boys under the age of two were slaughtered by soldiers in a vain attempt at killing Jesus.

Think of the thirty years at Nazareth - God in earthy human flesh. God himself eating, speaking, sleeping and sweating, his hands bearing the calluses of weariness and work.

Think of the joy, but think also of the pain - the journey to the cross that overshadowed the life of this holy Child. Because it was the REAL world into which he came, the REAL world he wanted to save, it could not be otherwise.

It should seem obvious as we read the Bible that God the Father didn't smooth out the pathway ahead of Jesus, nor that of those who were closest to him. He suffered greatly; and they shared in his suffering, his poverty, his labour and his pain. This was crucial to God's way of saving the world. These things are, as we might say "the birth-pangs of the new age".

Today's Gospel gives us a glimpse of the special pain embraced by Mary and Joseph when Jesus desired - even at twelve years of age - to be about his "Father's business."

Thank God that Christmas is a time of joy, sharing, singing and praise; a time of exchanging gifts and greetings; a time even of rekindled faith, as treasured childhood memories and religious sentiments are revived by the trappings of the holy season.

Let's celebrate as sumptuously as we can. God would want that. So long as we don't forget that Christmas is also for those who find their faith journey a bit of a stumble: those living in poverty; those who suffer pain at this time of the year because they have outlived their friends; or their families have crumbled; or they are separated by great distance from loved ones; or they struggle with psychological illnesses; or they just - in all honesty - find it so hard to believe.

You are here today because coming to Mass is the best way of entering into the joy of this season. You know that every Mass is ANOTHER CALVARY, where the "one perfect sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world" is offered to the Father; but you also know that every Mass is ANOTHER BETHLEHEM where Jesus comes among us in as real a way as when he lay in the manger. There it is again: joy and pain mingling for our salvation.

So, my brothers and sisters, it remains for me to remind you that whatever circumstances you face at this particular moment, you can trust the Lord. In leaping from the throne of glory via the Virgin's fiat into this world which - for all of its beauty and wonder - we had turned into the gutter of the universe, he has already shown how much he loves you. He is "the same, yesterday, today and forever," and if you reach out to him today, you will know his love, his strength, and his healing power supporting and sustaining you ... in your joy as well as in your pain.

Or, as I quoted in my Christmas newsletter:

"You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)


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