John Heard: Pulsing with irresistible energy

31 Dec 2008

By The Record

By organising our lives, our homes, our businesses, our cultures, and
our nations around the fact of Christ’s birth, we show that we are
serious about the truth, and we demonstrate that God is at the centre
of history.
In the lead-up to Christmas, we revel in a time, a bright season of calm beauty. Then, at Christmas, the Church bursts into full celebration. It is like the joy we had before, so warm and sure, is suddenly and massively increased. At Christmastime we light extra candles. Pillars and portals are festooned with wreathes. Christmas trees adorn our sanctuaries, and new vestments model the colours and symbols of Christmas hope.
Come Christmas night, then, there is the hum of a packed house. There is the familiar expectant darkness, then the shock of a thousand new lights. From midnight, the Church pulses with an irresistible energy, and Catholics observe the ancient rites that welcome the Incarnation of the Christ.
This surge lasts.
Christmas celebrations certainly suffuse the time that follows through Christmastide, and Catholics mark a full eight days of festival – the Octave of Christmas.  
This energy, and those lights, the Advent/Christmastide seasons we live and pray, these are all part of a great gift. During this time we hear again that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
However, this news, and the miraculous facts of Christ’s birth can come harshly into the lives of some people. Same sex attracted men, in particular, those of us who feel tainted, or irredeemable, or manifestly broken – can find it hard to understand a God Who would choose to come into the world as a vulnerable creature.
These people are not alone. The Jews regularly regard the Christmas story, and the idea that God was born of a woman, as a blasphemy.
In recalling the great facts of God’s entry into human history, then, and by observing the strange rites of Christmas joy, Christians are confronted with a hard truth. We share in some of the mystery of God’s great nature, but to make any sense of it all we must learn, again, that He is Love. He really is Love.
For nothing else can make sense of the Christmas story.
Those of us who know someone who is same sex attracted, then, or someone who struggles with his faith (or perhaps we are close to someone who is not Christian) – for many people on the edges of the Church, Christmas can be a mighty time indeed.
For, it is not so hard – at Christmas – to do and say many things that might otherwise come awkwardly.
Certainly, this time is given to us out of love. It is given to us, especially those of us who move among non-Christians, to model love for others. We are to carry the Christ-child into the public square, to prepare all hearts for Christmas, and build a community of peace.
In some ways at least, the non-Christian world is more willing to hear the Christmas message, or certain parts of it, at Christmastime than at almost any other time of the year. The Christmas teachings that give Catholics such joy, these flood out of the churches.
Running alongside the central liturgical events, the Masses and the rituals, there are rich cultural and family traditions.
These are not separate from the proper celebration of Christmas joy.
They are animated and sanctified by the same.
And in these folk celebrations, as in the great rites of Church, non-Christians see the best of our faith.
By organising our lives, our homes, our businesses, our cultures, and our nations around the fact of Christ’s birth, we show that we are serious about the truth, and we demonstrate that God is at the centre of history. 
The answer for those same sex attracted men who cannot believe the Christmas truth, and the answer for the Jews who doubt that God would come down to Bethlehem, and the answer for all those others who cannot – on their first encounter with, or even after many repetitions of the nativity story – fathom the love that makes Christmas work is not, after all, a formula or a proof.
It is an encounter with a person: the God Who is Love.
The glory, and the wonder, all the spirit, energy, and light of Christmas therefore find their source and summit – as the whole Church must – in the person of Jesus Christ.
Individual Christians, holding themselves up to His great light, become a light for others.
At Christmastime we are promised then – that in this way – Christmas love will illuminate our families, and bring peace to the world.  
A blessed Christmas to all readers, and a safe and happy New Year!
John Heard is a Melbourne writer.