Christmas is not just a “Once upon a time story”

By Cardinal John Dew

Every year millions of people all over the world listen once again to the stories of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem.

For some they may be the only stories from the Bible they hear each year, but at least once a year is better than nothing. In many languages the world over, people hear and ponder on the wonder of Christ being born into our world.

Words from the Gospel of Luke are heard, such as, “Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” ( Luke 2: 11-12) Or they may be those words from St John’s Gospel which does not tell directly the story of the birth of Jesus, but repeats in the most wondrous way the reality of God living among us in human flesh;  “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1: 14)

There will be millions of words, written in Christmas cards, spoken on YouTube clips, preached in churches which express in our limited human language the wonder of God’s presence, the wonder of “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us…. ”.  The famous English writer, philosopher, lay theologian, and literary and art critic G K Chesterton once said “There are plenty of things to wonder at in this world, what is lacking is wonderment.” I often think of these words of his in relation to Christmas. It would be so easy to become caught up in the rush of preparation for Christmas that we could miss the beauty, the miracle of God’s presence, the wonderment of this Divine Mystery.

This Christmas take time to stop and pause, to reflect on the above words from the Scriptures, pray with them, let them speak to you. Hear these words “A saviour has been born for you.” The only way any of us will ever know that this child born at Bethlehem was born for each one of us, that this is personal, is through prayer and reflection. Give thanks that he was born “for you.”

As you pause and think of all those millions of words spoken about Christmas each year, remember that Jesus is the Word of God; “In the beginning was the Word; The Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:10)…The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory ” (John 1:14)

Christmas is not just a “Once upon a time story”

We hear it anew every year and it changes our lives. How will we hear it this year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? Will we hear it in a different way, and will it enable us to respond differently to those around us? Will the presence of God in our lives, living among us, enable us to give hope to those who are struggling because of Covid-19?

As we pray and ponder, as we allow our lives to be caught up in wonderment, and as we think again of the Word made flesh and living among us, we also pray for the grace and the courage to continue writing the Christmas story with our own lives. The story is not yet finished.  We write it through our love and kindness, our care and concern, our sharing with the poor, through our lives as we have the incredible privilege of every day being the Word in human flesh to those around us.

Cardinal John Dew is the Archbishop of Wellington and Vice President of New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference. Conference Liaison for Holy Cross Seminary, the national seminary for formation of diocesan priests. Bishop for the Catholic Bishops Committee for Ecumenism. Pope Francis has also appointed Cardinal John to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.

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