In Dennis O’Driscoll’s humorous poem, Non-Stop Christmas, “Christmas is always coming. There are only ever so many days still left”. Well, the shopping and the frenetic activity which have characterised the past two or three months are over and we are now on the eve of the big day itself.
The great thing about Christmas, someone has said, is that it is compulsory and whether we like it or not, it does happen. However, as with Easter, this year it will be a very different Christmas, pared down and shorn of so much that has made it special in the past.
Each year it becomes more difficult to say anything refreshingly new about it and I sometimes wonder why. Maybe it has something to do with growing older. Every Christmas, my mind is drawn back to my childhood and the wonderful celebrations I experienced as part of a happy, loving family. But I’m older now and so too, sadly, is the world I live in. Maybe the magic of Christmas is only for children, after all, and very small ones at that.
The truth is that I now know too much about the real state of the world – the countless millions of people displaced through wars, famines and natural disasters, those exploited and imprisoned through poverty and neglect, to say nothing of this year’s victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. In my weaker moments, I sometimes think that the nightmares of our times are destroying us personally, collectively, physically and spiritually.
And yet it is against this stark and frightening background that we still dare, each year, to celebrate the coming of the Prince of peace with his message of love, compassion and, above all, hope. St John in his Gospel, talks about Jesus as the Light coming into a dark world, and we certainly need that light In our ever darkening world.When, back in April, I drafted my annual Easter Message for the hundreds of Irish prisoners I work with, I could never have imagined that I would be following it up with a Christmas one some eight months later. However, this year for some reason, I found it more challenging to offer them a word or two of hope, aware of how difficult it is for them, separated from their families and loved ones at the one time of the year when everything conspires to remind them of home. But hope we must.
Hope is at the very heart of the Christmas message, a hope based on the person and teaching of Jesus. Christmas is about the vulnerability of a God who chose to come among us as an infant, exposed to life’s social and political circumstances as we all are. Throughout his short life, Jesus was always on the margins, in solidarity with the outcasts, the dispossessed, those without a name on the highway of life.
That’s why, each Christmas, we welcome him back into our world, personally and collectively, because we desperately want to believe that somewhere in what he said and did lies the key to a life that offers hope and meaning. And after the year we’ve just had, we surely deserve a fresh injection of both.
Have a happy and hope-filled Christmas.