The Meaning of A Christmas that Speaks of Hope
‘Hope is that thing inside us that insists…that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it.’ (US President-elect Barrack Obama, Jan 3rd 2008. 1)
We need Christmas this year more than ever as the perennial reminder that hope for a renewed world is not a vain hope. The event of the birth of Christ, the timeless reminder that hope is now, hope is every day, takes on special significance in difficult times. Christian belief in the incarnation, God with us, God for us, God within us, means that the love of God, creator, source, origin of all life, shown to us through Christ, is precisely what keeps us going, literally gives life and sustains us, is that ‘something better’ that is ever present to us and awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it.
Love, Justice, Peace, are the marks of the world that Jesus lived and died to bring about. An authentic ‘Happy Christmas’ will wish all of this. To wish ‘Joy to the World’ will include not just wishing love, peace and justice to those people and places where they are lacking in dramatic or mundane ways, but also some action in solidarity with those people and places where they are denied.
But celebrating what Christmas means for Christians involves both reaching out and reaching in. When we dare to reach into the silence of our own heart we can become aware of the miracle of the capacity for love, aware too of the yearning to reach out and to be reached, that is in each person. This too is what Christmas is about, that our deepest human longings are known, that they are well founded and that they do unite us to one another and to the One who is the source and goal of all we are, and know, and wish for. It is we who decide whether to live in the light of these yearnings or to block them, in ourselves and others, refusing the time to dwell on what really lies behind the celebrating, the gift giving, the special feasting, the carol singing.
As interdependent beings we impact on the lives of others near and faraway, in small or big ways. Faith, in ourselves and in our world as indeed redeemed, already loved and saved in creation, tangibly expressed in the life of Christ whose birth we commemorate, does not exempt us from playing our part. Rather it insists ever more strongly that we find ways to share that hope as widely as possible, and, in word and gesture do what we can to make sure that everyone knows they are included.
This Christmas in Ireland, as elsewhere in the world, many people, and for many reasons, will struggle to tap into that hope, to identify with the celebration which is multilayered and played out with joy and simplicity on the one hand but with excluding excess on the other. This will mean that the time of celebration will be hard for many people, that solidarity with people in need will have to be given practical expression if ‘Happy Christmas’ is to be more than a hollow chant and if the spirit of Christmas is to work its timeless wonder for the world.
1. Speech after Iowa caucuses Jan.3rd 2008. Newsweek special commemorative edition Dec. 2008.