We celebrate Christmas this year, as we did last year, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we are grateful that the COVID-19 restrictions are much more limited than last year and all should be able to fully participate in the Christmas liturgies. Thus, we are back in the position to once again experience the full richness and beauty of Christmas.
Christmas each year invites us to contemplate the extraordinary love of God for humanity. Its message that God has intervened in human history reveals to us that God is not distant from and uninvolved in the human story. Quite the opposite. God has chosen to engage us in the most extraordinary way possible, by being incarnated as a human being, and born in the most humble of settings. This reveals not only the depth of the love that God has for us, but it also enhances our sense of personal worth. In the Incarnation our dignity as human beings is extraordinarily elevated. We are not only created in the image and likeness of God but now God himself take on human flesh, and is born of a woman.
The Christmas story presents us with some striking features as to the nature of the God whom we Christians proclaim. That God would choose to be born in a stable in a remote corner of the Roman Empire challenges our usual perceptions and expectations of the Divine. God appeared among us not with a show of glory and power, seeking attention, but in vulnerability and humility. God has shown himself not aloof and demanding, but accessible and approachable.
The experience of the pandemic has reminded us all of the fragility of human life and the limits to our human abilities to solve serious threats to human wellbeing. We have developed vaccines and treatments and are gradually managing to get on top of the threat, but we have been reminded of the reality of human fragility and mortality. Not a few people have found themselves considering questions concerning the meaning and purpose of human life and our ultimate destiny. One thing we could consider doing this Christmas is to invite someone who is not practicing the faith to come along with us to Mass. The celebration of Christmas is possibly the most accessible moment for people to reconnect with God.
The popular carols sung at this time of year appeal to the deeper human aspirations for love and peace and goodwill. They express the often-elusive quality of human joy, and speak of the inherent beauty of simple family life. The birth of a child is always a wondrous thing, and gazing on a Christmas crib entices us to prize afresh the wonder of every human life.
Christmas fosters a spirit of goodwill and is a time of giving not only to family and friends but also to those who are disadvantaged. We think of those less fortunate than ourselves.
The threat of lockdowns dominated last Christmas, this Christmas it is the issue of vaccination status. While fear and uncertainty were in the air last Christmas (and are still evident at present), now the danger of social divisiveness is in evidence as we grapple with the question of vaccine mandates. Thinking of the birth of Christ who, came to bring the love and mercy of God to humanity, we can consider how we might be aware of those who are suffering as a result of the pandemic and commit in 2022 to work for a more cohesive and compassionate society as we continue to battle COVID-19 along with various other challenges that present themselves.
Archbishop Julian Porteous.