Never dread the darkness again
The birth of a royal child is always the occasion for celebration. In t imes when a disputed succession probably meant civil war and foreign invasion, the hopes of a nation would be invested in a newborn infant. The arrival of a son would be greeted with a public holiday and national merry-making.
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a Child who carries within Himself the fulfilment of our deepest aspirations. The Nativity of the Christ Child marks the reign of the Prince of Peace and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
Two millennia after the Incarnation, however, it can be tempting to ask what went wrong. During this last year we have been assailed by horrible accounts of the persecution of our fellow Christians overseas, and of ancient Christian communities obliterated in countries like Iraq and Syria. The Holy Land itself is scarred by bitter conflict and injustice. Add to that the rumours of wars surrounding the situation in Ukraine, and we might wonder why the Prince of Peace does not intervene sooner rather than later.
The circumstances of Our Lord’s Nativity give us a clue to our current predicament. This is clearly a royal birth with a difference. No palace walls protect this young Prince, and no guards defend Him. While a convoy of VIPs will eventually wind its way to Bethlehem from the East, the first guests at the court of this Child are some shepherds called down from the hills by an angel.
An army would have been useless in establishing the reign that this Child intends for us. Yes, there will be a Second Coming when He returns in power and when justice will be seen to be done on a universal scale. But at this first coming in Bethlehem, His mission is to take possession of our hearts by invitation. Whether we are shepherds or kings, he asks for entry, and we remain free to shut Him out. When rulers make the decision to shut out the Prince of Peace, then everyone suffers.
He has not come to rule by force of arms. The statute book of His Kingdom is fragranced by the Beatitudes: blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the meek. Meekness is not a quality which we would include in a CV. But in a world in which cruelty and violence are perpetrated even in the name of religion, the human race should learn to value this rare and attractive qual-
The interior jackals of despair and bitterness had been put to death by the gifts of hope and divine love ity more highly. Meekness is among the essential ingredients that give to Christianity its distinctive flavour. Any manifestation of our Faith that lacks gentleness and humility can only be a false expression of our religion.
The meekness of the stable is a sign of Our Lord’s special love for the needy. According to popular tradition, the Nativity took place in the cold of a winter’s night. As they gathered around the hearth of the manger, however, the shepherds must have realised that they would never again have to dread the darkness. Enlightened by the new faith infused into them as they knelt to adore, their hearts were warmed by the rays of divine light streaming from the Christ Child, who chose them to be among the very first to receive the invitation to divine friendship. Yes, they would return to the perils of protecting their flocks from wild beasts and thieves. But the interior jackals of despair and bitterness had been put to death by the supernatural gifts of hope and divine love.
The plight of the Holy Family, meanwhile, speaks with special poignancy of the persecuted who will have no home of their own and no church in which to worship this Christmas. The impending flight from Herod into Egypt suggests a unique communion with the dispossessed and victimised. It is a reminder for us to contribute to charities that support our fellow Christians who suffer persecution, to welcome them with warmth and generosity when they come to us as refugees, and to pray for them.
There is much to pray for this Christmas. Pray that the reign of the Prince of Peace will be welcomed by all. The Christ Child was both a Palestinian and a Jew, and the continuance of the Christian presence is an indispensable force for peace around the Holy Land, as elsewhere in the Middle East. Pray, also, for the Church as our Pope and bishops prepare for the concluding session of the family synod next year. The Christian family is the ideal school for nurturing the Beatitudes. May next year ’s synod be blessed in promoting the purity of heart, the poverty in spirit, the mercy and the meekness that are the unmistakable marks of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Fr Julian Large Cong. Orat. is Provost of the London Oratory
CATHOLIC HERALD, DECEMBER 19 2014 3