Archbishop William Slattery: Hold on! You are Christmas!
Christmas, the coming of God as an infant, didn’t happen 2000 years ago, but is happening today, as ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM SLATTERY OFM explains.
In their 1990s song “Everybody Hurts”, the US rock band R.E.M. sang: “So, hold on, hold on, hold on. Everybody hurts. You are not alone.”
It is Christmas; it is God who says: “You are not alone!” The angels proclaim it: “I bring you good news of great joy.”
Emmanuel, God is with us. Hold on, hold on, hold on. He tells us: “Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine” (Is 43:1).
It seems we are unable to reach each other in South Africa. Like Frank Sinatra, we do it “My Way”— up one-way streets.
Everybody hurts. But hold on, you are not alone. Fear not, the Lord is coming.
Christmas is belonging. We can seek God through our intelligence, through reason and philosophy. But it is through the experience of Belonging that we most nearly touch him.
We all know belonging. Belonging makes the mother sheep die to defend its lambs from ravaging dogs; it martyrs the mother hen in the defence of its chicks.
Belonging is that powerful force which determines our relationships. Though surrounded by a thousand persons, the one to whom I belong absorbs me.
Though unmeasurable, nothing is more concrete, more real, more felt, as belonging. At Christmas God says that he belongs to us and we belong to him. For that he created us, for this he reveals himself, this is why he comes at Christmas. You are not alone.
The incarnation is now
Our year, 2019, happened only once, like all other historical events, it has been swallowed up in the past. However, the mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past because by his death he destroyed death; he participates in the divine eternity.
He so transcends all time while being made always present, always now.
The event of Christmas abides and draws everything towards life, companionship and joy. Because God’s entry into our world is now, we are as close to him as were the shepherds and the angels of Bethlehem. Hold on!
With the tenderness of a little infant, God takes us very seriously. This world created by him is his gift to us; it is precious. Christmas reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters with creation itself.
As Pope Francis writes: “The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow; the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other…
“Every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity,” the pope said.
“The incarnation of the Word in a human family, in Nazareth, by its very newness, changed the history of the world. We need to enter into the mystery of Jesus’ birth, into the ‘yes’ given by Mary to the message of the angel, as well as the ‘yes’ of Joseph, who gave a name to Jesus and watched over Mary.”
Noting the role played by Joseph, we see that “men play a decisive role in family life with regard to the protection and support of their wives and children”.
Seek God among the poor
To situate the Gospel in historical time, St Luke mentions the great figures of the age: Augustus, Quirinius governor of Syria, and Herod. But it is among the poor, not in the company of the great, that we must seek Our Lord.
St Oscar Romero tells us: “Let us look for him among the poor newspaper boys who sleep on the doorways wrapped in today’s paper. Let us look for him in the newspaper boy who, because he did not sell enough papers, is severely reprimanded by his stepfather or stepmother. How sad is the history of these children.”
Hold on! Christmas invites us to prolong the Kingdom of this Infant. St John Henry Newman states: “I have a place in God’s world which no one else has; whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by name.
“God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another…
“I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do his work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place. I will trust Him.
“Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. God knows what He is about.”
How you are Christmas
Finally, become Christmas. Hear Pope Francis: “Christmas is you, when you decide to be born again each day and let God into your soul. The Christmas pine is you when you resist vigorous winds and difficulties of life. The Christmas decorations are you when your virtues are colours which adorn life. The Christmas bell is you when you call, gather, and seek to unite.
“You are a Christmas light when you illuminate with your life the path of others with kindness, patience, joy and generosity.
“The Christmas angels are you, when you sing to the world a message of peace, justice and love. The Christmas star is you when you lead someone to meet the Lord.
“You are also the wise men when you give the best you have no matter what. The Christmas gift is you when you are truly friend and brother/sister of every human being.
“The Christmas greeting is you, when you forgive and re-establish peace even when you suffer. You are, yes, Christmas night when humble and conscious, you receive in the silence of the night the Saviour of the world without noise or great celebration…you are a smile of trust and tenderness, in the inner peace of a perennial Christmas that establishes the Kingdom within you.”
A very merry Christmas for all those who look like Christmas. You are not alone, Hold on.
Archbishop William Slattery OFM is the retired head of Pretoria archdiocese. Join him on the Southern Cross pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Oberammergau in August/September 2020: www.fowlertours.co.za/passion/