This article was published in The Scottish Catholic Observer on 20th Dec 2019.
I suppose you have noticed that Christmas is coming. You can hardly miss it; the shops are full of clues like Christmas lights, decorations, images of Santa and reindeer. I was looking at a range of charity Christmas cards in a popular store the other day and even found one card that had the word, ‘Christmas’. The shelves are stuffed with toys for all the girls and boys and I suppose that’s what we think about at this time. Christmas is an exciting time for children.
Children are preparing for Christmas, playing parts in the Nativity Play; could be Joseph or Mary or probably one of the angel chorus. Children are encouraged to work on their behaviour. Santa’s helpers will be keeping an eye on everyone and Santa is making up his list. Everyone is being good so they get moved up Santa’s list. Parents are getting the Christmas menu sorted out for the big Christmas Day dinner. Writing the Christmas cards and wrapping the gifts takes hours. Christmas Day sees us at mass and gathering round the crib to see the baby Jesus.
The children gaze at the holy child, the picture of innocence we are all encouraged to emulate. Even the animals push in close to be near Jesus. This is the Holy Family that all our families should be like. Christmas is a great time for families.
Of course it’s not like that for everyone. Occasionally we get one or maybe two people at Midnight Mass who have had a wee bit too much to drink. Sometimes they just sit there but some can be a bit noisy. Often you find that they haven’t been to Mass for a long time. They fell away years ago because they couldn’t deal with it. They were put off by the guilt that many feel and then they feel they don’t belong. For some reason they feel called back and the alcohol dims the guilt feeling.
Christmas is seen as a happy time for the good, the innocent and the holy but not for the sinners and the excluded. It’s about the good people welcoming the Baby Jesus and singing Christmas Carols, isn’t it? Well, now that I think about it, I suppose that’s wrong. Christmas is the birthday of Jesus but that’s not the beginning. Jesus is the Son of God and He was around for a long time before the first Christmas. He was around before there was time actually. Christmas was the coming of the Son on a mission.
It’s the mission the Holy Child was sent on that gives Christmas its significance. This child was sent to change the world. Jesus was to grow into a man who broke the rules. The Son of God did not associate with princes and kings. He lived among the ordinary people and the poor. There were people in that society that decent people did not associate with. Jesus kept company with tax collectors and fallen women. He wasn’t very nice to some of the important people.
Jesus had come to save the sinners, the excluded and the lost. When challenged about his choice of associates he replied that it is the sick who need the doctor, not the healthy. In a sense Christmas is really all about sinners. If there were no sinners there would be no need for Jesus to come to save them. However there never seems to be a shortage of sinners. We were all innocent children once but living in the world, we find it difficult to avoid sin.
It is useful to remember that we are all sinners but we must not let feelings of guilt cause us to despair. Jesus brought the message that we are all saved and He saved us by His death and resurrection. Of course Jesus didn’t leave it at that. He formed his Church with Peter as its rock. It is our mission to continue His work of saving sinners.
How do we go about that? Well, I suppose we should take our lead from Jesus. He did not point the finger of accusation at the sinner. He, who was sinless, beckoned to the sinner to come to Him. Do we do the same? Are we ready to welcome the sinner, the outcast or the inebriated man at the back of the church?
I think we are very good at recognising and helping the poor and the sick. We contribute to charities like SCIAF and MISSIO to bring aid to the poor all over the world. We contribute to the Saint Vincent DePaul collections to help those who have fallen on hard times nearer home. Schools put together Christmas parcels and distribute them to old folk living on limited means. How good are we at reaching out to the others?
Our prisons are overflowing with convicted prisoners. Some of them get visitors while others may be far from home and have nobody to reach out to them. How good are we at accepting those prisoners when they are released from prison? Do we welcome them warmly or do we view them with suspicion, seeing them as guilty men? (I know they are not all men.)
How would Christ see them? Would He reject them and turn away? I don’t think so. I think Jesus would not condemn them but offer them forgiveness and salvation. Remember, Jesus came to change the world. As a Christian I’m compelled to continue that task of changing the world. That sounds impossible but I’m not on my own. There are millions of us all over the world with that same task.
How do I start this change? Well I first of all need to bring about change in myself. I need to start by changing how I see other people. Do I look down on the inebriated man at the back of the church or do I recognise someone who has been moved to come to Christ even if he doesn’t realise it? Do I condemn or do I welcome?
This Christmas I’ll try to see the crib a bit differently; not just the Baby Jesus for children to wonder at but the Son of God calling out to all the sinners (me included) to come back to Him. I need to remember that no matter what we have done, what sins we have committed, what hurts we may have caused, the Baby Jesus doesn’t see our guilt but our need of forgiveness.
This Christmas is a time for rejoicing. It’s a time for sinners to rejoice because Jesus does not condemn us but wants to welcome us. Nobody is excluded, no matter what their story is. If Jesus can reach out to everyone who am I to look down on anyone?
I’m looking forward to Christmas and I will get caught up in all the usual preparations but this year I’ll try to get busy changing myself into the kind of person Jesus calls us all to be. I hope your preparations don’t get too hectic. Have a joyful Christmas this year. If you are a sinner like me just remember Christmas is all about us sinners.