This article first appeared in the Scottish Catholic Observer in January 2014.
As I write this article in the days before Christmas 2013, I am caught up as usual in the last hours of frenzied preparations: buying and wrapping gifts, opening cards from friends and looking forward to Christmas Day spent with the family.
The holidays came after a particularly busy time when some of the material from Catholic Education Week was being prepared and assembled, ready for distribution in January. While this year’s theme – “Shining the Light of Faith” – was chosen to reflect the first encyclical of Pope Francis – Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) – it can also be seen to relate to the Christmas season when Christians are expected to shine out Christ’s love for all.
This year our granddaughter Chloe is of an age when Christmas brings such excitement. Throughout Advent she has been opening windows on the Advent calendar and trying to relate each of the symbols – a lamb, an angel, a crown – to the story of Jesus being born. She loved participating in her Nursery school’s Nativity service, playing an angel and a snowman. She is fascinated with the various Nativity scenes at home and in Church, each with the baby Jesus missing which puzzles her. It’s great to be challenged to account for the presence of Mary & Joseph, the shepherds, the animals (and angels and Wise Men to come). They are all waiting, Chloe learns, to welcome Jesus who will bring joy and peace for everyone.
In the midst of the Christmas mayhem, at Mass in my parish on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the homily caused me to stop and think again Christmas. The priest challenged the congregation to gaze on the Crib, set out on a side altar, and to think deeply about what the event of the Nativity means to each of us personally. What is the significance of the Nativity, not only as an historical event, but as an event which shapes my personal relationship with God, with this Christ child who was born in a stable?
The priest encouraged us to pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire our reflection on how each of us could participate personally in the Nativity by making it “real” for others, by bringing alive the spirit of Christmas in our words and actions and in our relationships with friends and family. His message could have been summed in the slogan “Keep Christ in Christmas”, but I think that he was suggesting that we need to keep Christ alive in our hearts, through our words and actions, at all times of the year.
So, at the start of 2014, it is appropriate for all Christians to make at least one New Year’s resolution: to keep in our hearts the joy of our Saviour’s birth and to share that joy with others.
For my family that joy is tangible (and audible) when we have Chloe among us. Like all children, she captures the spirit of the season so naturally, enjoying both receiving and presenting gifts. So, in her very presence among us, Chloe offers us a reminder of how we should still make sense of the Nativity, even as adults. She knows that Jesus is born out of love for us all and that we should share this love with others.
The challenge for the adults among us is to feel that love and joy with the same freshness and enthusiasm as children do. This past year some of the more senior adults in my family have been struggling with ill health. So I am praying that they will be refreshed and renewed in seeing the joy of a child who wants to love and to be loved.
One of my favourite Christmas carols – ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ – captures much of this spirit in its final verse:
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.
I pray that each of us has been able to give our hearts to Christ and that his love will shine through us for others to see in the year ahead.