Christmas – a story of struggle

Unless Christ is born and reborn in the cradle of our heart, the nativity narrative remains little more than a beautiful story, writes Michael Kelly

If someone who had never heard the story of Jesus were to ask any of us about his origins, we would, I suspect, begin with the story of his birth in Bethlehem. It’s a story that we’re all familiar with from childhood.

In schools and parish halls across the country, countless generations of Irish children have told and re-told the story in nativity plays.

But, amidst the carols and candles, the presents and parties, there is a profound, but simple truth at the centre of Christmas that can sometimes escape us in the midst of the hustle and bustle: God became man.

It’s a simple story with a profound meaning: for the religious believer, Christmas transforms everything. It is a moment in human history that, in the humility of a little baby, God, the Creator of the world, entered into human history.

I love the story of the Magi visiting from the East, expecting to see a king clothed in grandeur and surrounded by a royal court. What they encounter, instead, is a baby laid in a manger, the child of poor people. The Christmas story contrasts the noisy and ostentatious power of this world with the defenceless power of love in a little baby, for who can fail to be moved by the unconditional love of a baby? Or the story of the Holy Family forced to flee as refugees to Egypt far from the land of their birth?

But, unless Christ is born and reborn in the cradle of our heart, the nativity narrative from a stable or a cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago remains little more than a beautiful story.

Many people will not have the Christmas they intended this year. Despite the exit of the Troika, money is still scarce, loved ones are overseas. In many homes, cherished companions are no-longer with us. But, maybe we can find hope in the vulnerability of the Christmas story. For it is not a story of sentiment: it is a story of struggle. The fear of the young woman Mary found to be with child outside of marriage; the bewilderment of Joseph; the newborn child with a manger for a bed. This new family forced to flee as asylum seekers into Egypt far from their home and families. This is the message of Christmas: a message of a God who is called ‘Emmanuel’ – a word which means ‘God-is-with-us’.

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Happy Christmas!