Translation Canon Tony Dickinson
Matthew 1: 18-25
Luke 2: 1-20
The celebration of Christmas as we experience it today too often hides the meaning that it could have. Isobelle Pierron reminds us how much the meaning of the birth of Jesus escapes us. Christmas, like Easter, questions our faith. How do we talk about Christmas today when Father Christmas takes up all the space, when the children make their lists of presents, and when it is possible to return a present or to change it? How many become angry when someone is presented with a gift which they have not asked for? What kind of gift is it when everyone wants to decide what they are going to receive? What is the place of the one who offers, who gives?
Are we not miles away from the birth of Jesus? Well no, I don’t think so. The question is the same today as yesterday. When Matthew and Luke write about the birth of Jesus, what do they want to tell us? Nothing historical; they weren’t there. I believe that the biblical writers are talking more about humanity than about God and that often their already ancient words still ring a bell today.
For example, it is right to understand in the “no” of Joseph to Mary, pregnant by someone other than himself (Matthew), that we find it difficult to welcome what we do not understand or what is contrary to our wishes. Do we not have difficulty in opening our doors to the unknown, the stranger, the poor … as at the inn (Luke) where Jesus and Mary knocked on the night of the birth of Jesus, to the point of letting them set up home in a stable? And like King Herod (Matthew), there are times when we feel ourselves threatened by the other to the point of wanting to eliminate him. Sometimes also like the religious in Jerusalem (Matthew) we do not believe what is happening: the fulfilment of the promise.
A birth disturbs, upsets, causes disorder. A new life brings questions and brings other pathways to light. Isn’t this the way in which the birth of Jesus brings to light all the possibilities which the Eternal sketches out before us?
At his birth Jesus was laid on the wood of a manger. A curious cradle for a Saviour, wasn’t it? At his death Jesus made his bed on the wood of a cross. Curious place for a Saviour, isn’t it? Does not the birth of Jesus pose the same question as the cross? Why a Saviour who is born so meanly and who dies like a bandit? This is not what we want; that is all beyond our understanding.
A birth, like every gift, is a question. We are questioned in our identity, to the point of being questioned in our will, that is to say our wish to decide, to choose, to be in charge, to control. Yes even a new-born contests our desire to want everything.
Isn’t that the question of faith? Am I going to let this fragile and vulnerable child grow with me in my life to the point that I cease to want everything in order to accept what is given? There’s the same question at the cross: am I going to accept being loved before I love, am I going to accept the forgiveness and the justice of an Other?
It’s a question of faith, a question of life: birth and death, like every evidence of our everyday life, are as much calling in question our desire to control everything when the Eternal in Jesus invites us to accept what is, what is given. That doesn’t mean resignation and defeat. It is a serene and more just way of living together. Acceptance as a way of being liberated from oneself with the aim of letting the Eternal Father complete his work in us.
Christmas is a celebration for many and that is right and just. But a celebration just right for celebrating? What Christmas has become, in the course of the years – a display of presents, meals and lights – this display hides what is essential, and we know that well. We avoid the question posed by the gift of the Eternal in order to concentrate on the crib stuck under the Christmas tree, as we turn our eyes away from the cross in order to celebrate Easter. However, has not Jesus accepted the “yes” of the Eternal over him at Gethsemane and has he not accepted the human “no” to the point of dying on the cross?
If we believe that, then it is right that Christmas like Easter should be celebrated each year because the work on oneself which is the way of acceptance always has to be done. So here’s a challenge for this Christmas: accept the presents that are offered without feeling disappointment or envy!