Christmas Message from the Bishops of Clogher 2010
Christmas Message from the Bishops of Clogher 2010

When Elizabeth went shopping in preparation for Christmas this year she had to be careful. Albert, her husband, is on a three day week and her own part-time hours have been cut. The mortgage has been renegotiated but is still a heavy responsibility. There are bills too numerous to mention, from insurance to children’s shoes and schoolbooks, and also the unexpected expenses that bring worry and strain into family relationships.

Elizabeth often counts her blessings and acknowledges them in her conversation with God. Albert and herself have a good relationship. She is caring, he is gentle; they talk a lot and can laugh together. Most of the time, they enjoy their three children and are glad that they can be boisterous and full of energy. The children give a focus and a sense of purpose to their lives. Christmas is a time of birth. Birth is life. New life is always a reason to celebrate.

The circumstances of the birth of Jesus were stressful and humble. There were few frills and no toys; simply parents and child, with any extras supplied by nature. New life has simpler and more fundamental needs than the luxuries we have foisted on Christmas. Nourishment, affection, comforting, reassurance, attention, and time are priorities.

Albert has been thinking about how the family will adjust this Christmas to having less than they had before. He wonders about a return to earlier times and simpler habits. It’s extraordinary, he says to himself, the companionship that can be generated when a family gather around the table for a game of cards or scrabble or whatever. It’s not the game but the companionship, the banter, the togetherness and the simple treat before going to bed. Anything that brings father, mother and children together to chat and listen to one another is a potential source of unity and strength for the family.

If we remember an experience years afterwards there is no denying its importance. Albert has been reflecting on people’s accounts of ordinary outings like a family walk in the park. Sights seen, trees and plants named, bits of conversations shared with neighbours who stopped to talk, a hand held, a child lifted to see something, intimate family details spoken of – these experiences are often remembered lovingly years later, like those details in the Gospel account that we are told Mary pondered in her heart. It’s amazing what can become of little acorns.

The Lord kept reminding the people of His time that few things in life are essential (Matthew 6.25-34). He told them to consider the lilies of the field and suggests we can avoid unnecessary worry if we trust the Father to provide. He commended Martha’s sister Mary for the choice she made and suggests we take time to listen too. He advised against building bigger barns than are needed and warns we can be damaged by greed. He urged his followers to welcome the children, to acknowledge the special place they have in the kingdom and suggests to us that we could learn from their capacity to believe and trust.

Elizabeth and Albert, if you are approaching the coming festive season with fear and trepidation why not revisit the Scriptures for guidance? They speak of pearls and precious things but, according to the Lord, there is only one treasure of great price for which everything should be staked. That is to love and serve our neighbour and model this on the love of God shown us in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, whose birth we commemorate. His yoke is easy, his burden is light; his message is liberating. That is why people of all ages, from shepherds to wise men, to us in our present time, have always been drawn and still today are drawn to the light of His birth.

+Michael Jackson
+Liam MacDaid