Christmas and us!
‘Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11)
When we look deeply into ourselves and our lives this Christmas, what do we discover? If we look deeply enough, I think we will find a longing and a desire to be better people, a longing and a desire to be whole people, genuine people, and people of integrity. We want others to think and say of us: ‘He’s genuine. She’s authentic. What you see is what you get.’ On the other hand, surely none of us wants to be ‘people of the lie’ (Scott Peck) or two-faced.
Deep down inside us we are also likely to find two other kinds of spiritual longing – a longing for meaning and purpose in life, and a longing to belong to others in family and community. Such longings are likely to intensify during our Christmas celebrations.
When we look outside ourselves at our world this Christmas, what do we see? For a start, we see a still beautiful universe that was created in love by God, and which he abundantly endowed with animals, vegetables, and minerals to serve human needs, but in sensible, sustainable and responsible ways. But we also notice that people, perhaps we too, have gradually and at times ruthlessly degraded and destroyed air, water, and soil. In the process human beings have helped extinguish hundreds and even thousands of species of animals, birds and fish, and consumed a lion’s share of earth’s mineral resources. Every day the picture grows bigger and grimmer of the harm inflicted by global warming caused by wholesale human pollution and degradation of the physical environment. We even seem to be moving to the edge of a precipice of ecological catastrophe and disaster.
That’s one view of the world we live in, the world of our physical and material environment. But within the world of human beings, what do we also see? We notice, of course, many, many wonderful people. They are persons filled with what Paul in his Letter to the Galatians calls ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (5:22). He names them as people of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (5:23). On the other hand, as Paul notes, there are many who do not ‘live by the Spirit’ of God (5:16), but are selfish, greedy, and self-indulgent. He names their irresponsible behaviour as ‘works of the flesh’, and includes in his list impurity, having false gods, antagonism, rivalry, jealousy, bad temper, quarrels, factions, malice, drunkenness and orgies (5:19). He warns that ‘those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (5:21b).
In fact, all such bad behaviour is in conflict with, and incompatible with, the good and joyful news God has spoken in our Christmas Gospel and which we echoed in our Responsorial Psalm: ‘Today is born our Saviour, Christ the Lord.’ Consider ourselves reminded, then, by the highest authority on earth that we are not completely our own masters and that we are not free therefore to live just any way we like and do just anything we want. No! The one born at Bethlehem remains the King and Lord of our lives.
Jesus, our King and Lord, then, has great expectations of us in our relationships with other people, in our relationships with all other living creatures, and in our relationship with the material universe as well. Indeed, our King and Lord is calling on you and me to become the best people we can be. He is calling on us this Christmas Day to turn away entirely from a life of selfishness, sin and self-indulgence, on the one hand, and to turn totally to a life of goodness, integrity, truth, love, justice, peace and joy, on the other. This may require a complete change of mind, heart and lifestyle.
In the here and now, our determination to follow Jesus Christ from this day forward, will mean accepting his offer of mercy and forgiveness for the wrong things we’ve done in the past, and making a brand new start with the help of his ‘amazing grace’. In fact, in our total turning away from sin and evil, and in our total turning to Jesus and his teachings, the kingdom of God will be happening among us.
All through his days on earth, Jesus our Friend, Liberator, Lord and King, made it very clear that the kingdom of God was already happening in concrete ways. It was happening in his loving service of others. It was happening when he pictured the coming of the kingdom in parables, sketches and short stories. It was happening when he healed physically sick people and restored them to their family and community. And it was happening when he delivered others from demonic forces, fear, worry and anxiety. So Jesus emphasized that ‘the kingdom is already among you’ (Lk 17:21).
But he also declared that the kingdom has not yet arrived. Its full and final phase, when God will abolish all evil and rule over everyone and everything perfectly for ever, is still to come. So Jesus told us to pray: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come’ (Lk 11:2), and to be ready and on the alert for its arrival (Mt 25:1-13; Lk 12:35-40). But when the full reign of God does finally happen, it will be beyond all our planning and all our organising. So ultimately we must let God give us his kingdom as pure gift. Meanwhile, what we can do is to completely cooperate with God to hasten its arrival.
When the fullness of the kingdom, reign and rule of God, does finally arrive, that consoling promise which we hear tonight [today] will also be happening more strongly than ever before, the promise expressed in the song of the angels: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men and women who enjoy God’s favour.’