The Season of Christmas is precious, and it grows more precious for us, as each year imperceptibly but surely ages us. We sense that our time on earth is limited, and that the glorious moment of Christmas measures, in a unique way, the changes which have passed over us, our families and friends. At Christmas we take stock, as it were, of who has left us, who has arrived, and how we have altered. Christmas seems to be an island in the river of time, on which we can rest a little, considering where the waters have carried us.
From this island in the river, we look backwards, we enjoy the present, and we anticipate the future. We cannot help but think of the eternal dimension, and of the heavens which rejoice on this day. We understand, without having to articulate it, that our purpose on earth must be connected with the spiritual life: that it must be holiness, approaching the life of heaven while here in earth. For the Christian, no two periods of the year so richly concentrate feeling, experience and all our spiritual yearnings as Christmas and Easter.
More even than the Season of the Resurrection, each Christmas brings back powerful, poignant memories of childhood. More even than Easter, at each Christmas we remember how and where we were on previous occasions.
There is a magic in Christmas. No matter how much an adult may feel removed or even alienated from Christianity, there is a nerve of feeling available to connect us to the higher: we were all children, and as children, we had a special sympathy with Our Lord as the Holy Infant, who was born on that Silent Night, and for whom the angels appeared. Children love Him and sense his holiness without having to be told.
Children are, in many ways, closer to God, if only because they have a greater sense of wonder, and that keeps them open to the goodness, truth and beauty which suffuses the entire creation. Further, their lives are simpler. They do not make adult demands on life: their expectations are only of what their parents have prepared them for. But most important of all, in children their minds and their feelings are closer together than they are in adults: so their thoughts and their emotions march together. When they have an idea or a feeling it belongs to all of them, and they act on it. The joy of their hearts seizes their minds. Children are more innocent, more sincere, less hypocritical than we are.
I am leading to this: the innate understanding of the holiness of the creation which we had as children, is true. The simple faith which we had as children is true. The sense of the goodness of life which we had is true. It is our complex adult reasons, our multiple manoeuvrings and our self-justifications which keep us from that innocent purity. These are the great fables of our life, not the Nativity.
Christmas is a time to make space in our lives for family and friends. When we are too busy, as they were too busy in that Bethlehem inn, there is never space for the Christ child to be in it. And so he was born in a manger, with shepherds and peasants. Christmas As a great man said: the pause only reveals what is there. The reality of Christmas – the joy in heaven – is always there. But so dependent are we on our external circumstances, and on what other people say and do – that it is only the communitarian dimension of Christmas which allows us to really experience this with any intensity.
It is just this, the feeling intensity of Christmas, which can cut through the rust of business, occupation and selfishness. This intensity in the feeling can bring us back to our purpose in life: holiness in whatever our daily work may be. It can bring us true repentance for our sins and transgressions. It can bring us the desire to amend, and desiring, to act.
So let us remember, let us renew our sense of purpose under God, renew ourselves with the sacraments, as part of the Universal Church, and let us act – refreshed by joy.
Joseph Azize, 23 December 2016