I don’t know about you who are reading this posting, but I often find a great sadness in Christmas in the midst of merry-making, rich food, presents and our efforts to celebrate the real Christmas in our liturgies, devotions and prayers. Myself, my mother is particularly present in my thoughts. There is not only my own loss, but thoughts going out to my brother who lost his son a little over six years ago. Christmas almost becomes a caricature and a cruel mockery. We often mock the Dickensian character Scrooge as he sneered at Christmas and carried on with his business as on any ordinary day. Someone like that must have been marked by some terrible event. I have the consolation of knowing that my father will be with my sister for much of tomorrow, and will not be alone.
Perhaps the saddest thing is spending Christmas alone. It has happened to me one year back in the 1990’s. For some, every Christmas is lonely, because they are homeless and loveless. Even for those of us eating rich food and having someone with us, we find that it was really all about the Logos of God born not only into humanity but also into extreme humility. There are of course the usual sentimental representations of the Gospel narrative of Jesus being born in a place where a farmer kept his animals through the winter. What is humanity? Is it the condition of hatred, power, money and corruption, or a condition that can be redeemed and sanctified? Faith tells me one thing and experience often tells me another.
Christmas is here also to bring consolation through its most profound meaning. As Christmas was Christ’s first coming of the three, it was also his first death through incarnation into corrupt humanity.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
There is a custom in Italy which I have continued since my seminary days. Make up the Crib in the usual way, but take a second and larger representation of the infant Jesus and tie it to the altar cross just below the crucified. At St Mary Major’s in Rome, there are relics of the crib believed to have been brought from the Holy Land in the seventh century.They consist of five pieces of sycamore wood. The significance is the wood, the material linking the Crib and the Cross. This symbolism is strong, associating Christmas and the suffering of the Passion. Each time Christmas comes round, we are that little bit older and further away from the world.
This death of our loved ones and our own slow descent reminds us that we should be looking beyond the transient joys towards eternity. In the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes: They will be consoled. May this Christmas bring consolation to all who suffer, who are alone and who have no one to love.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.