One of the remarkable aspects of this little Christmas and New Year Message which the Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops of Clogher have been circulating for the past 33 years is that it appears in exactly the same form in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Christmas is Christmas wherever you go. In both North and South most people look forward to Christmas and find great pleasure in its rituals in Church and home. It is a time of very hard work for many, perhaps for most of us, but we wouldn't miss it for the world.
There is a special intensity about Christmas in those families whose sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and even husbands or wives come home from working or living overseas. Skype and FaceTime are wonderful blessings but nothing compares to meeting those we love in the flesh. The hugs and kisses will be mighty.
For some reason which Theology can never quite explain Christmas brings hope. In theory Easter as the feast of the Resurrection should do so even more, yet Christmas remains the great season of hopes and dreams. It is the time when we look towards the end of an old year looming not far ahead and hope that the New Year just out of sight around the corner will be brighter and warmer and better than the one just past.
Perhaps, important as it is, Theology is just words; and words have a habit of disintegrating into dust when we encounter difficulties. When you find yourself in difficulties, remembered words or dear familiar things might help but not as much as a friend in the flesh. When we are surrounded by our family and friends at a Service of Lessons and Carols or at the First Eucharist of Christmas, or even sitting at the dinner table in a silly paper hat, we feel in those lovely words of the old saint, 'that all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well'. Christmas is the embodiment of hope. And Christmas is the embodiment of God.
'And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father full of grace and truth....for all the rules came from Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.'
Bishop John McDowell and Bishop Liam MacDaid