The Gospel stories of Christmas, read properly, are about deprivation, hardship, danger and defencelessness, all of which most definitely have a topical ring to them across the island of Ireland of today, rather than about good times for a minority and for ‘people who matter’.
If we were to look closer still at the
biblical stories of the Nativity, we see that they are saying startlingly
contemporary things to every community and to every individual. The most
important of which is that we all matter, regardless of who or what we
are, or what we have.
The sheer insignificance of the holy family in Bethlehem
on that first Christmas Day cannot be over–exaggerated. They didn’t count
(except in terms of a census), and they had no–one and nothing behind them, except
perhaps a marginal kindness by one individual who was persuaded to find
somewhere private where Joseph and Mary might have at least a modicum of
dignity for the birth of a child.
Yet for all
of the squalor and deprivation recounted, this sad little story was of eternal
and universal significance. This muted and pitiable little episode in history
was, in the theological language of Saint John’s Gospel, nothing less than the
Word of God invading the world. And by the Word of God we mean that which is the
real meaning of everything, that which is the underlying logic and reason
behind all creation.
As you and I seek to relate usefully, practically and even
sacrificially – as we all must do – to those who are being crushed by what is
happening to them here today, very probably through no conceivable fault of
their own, we can surely see the crucial connection with that event in
Bethlehem. No matter how much we have tried to wrap up the Nativity in tinsel
and pretty wrapping paper, it was the embodiment of real need and danger, and
yet was the Word of God in its fullness.
of Christmas is clear: the Word of God was and is to be found in all its power
and love in the most ordinary and even the most pitiable of places, and it is
there that we must continue to seek Christ. Above all, we must never doubt for
one moment that we all matter infinitely to God and that we must therefore all
matter infinitely to one another.
The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland