By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Tuesday 25th December, 2018
It is fascinating that in order to avoid the use of the word ‘Christmas’ wherever possible, the politically correct will talk of the festive season and wish everyone a happy holiday. A festive season presumes there is a festival, and a holiday means, holy day, so the celebration must be a religious festival. At this time of the year there is no shortage of them. The Jews celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights and the Hindus keep Diwali, the festival of the victory of light over darkness. For Christians Christmas goes further and celebrates the birth of the Son the God who is the Light of the World, for with him there is no darkness at all.
At Christmas light shines through the life of the newborn Jesus. His birth is a gift to us all, not so much through Mary’s obedience to God, but through her consent to enter into a spiritual relationship with him. The outcome of this consensual relationship is our knowledge that God is with us and among us. This knowledge is a comfort, but we need to explore why.
In her Christmas message reported in the West Australian newspaper last week, Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy described Jesus as ‘the most outstanding, the most distinctive sign of God’s presence in the world. She did not say that Jesus is the Son of God who is the visible image of our invisible God. Saying that Jesus is a sign of God’s presence is not the same as saying that through Jesus, God became fully human and shared our fragile human existence so that the fractured relationship between his creation and himself might be healed. In not acknowledging the divine nature of Jesus she has changed the traditional understanding of the crucifixion and resurrection. She has denied that God is a Trinity and that the mass is more than a fellowship meal celebrating God’s love for us.
The Catholic Church celebrates much more than the birth of a new baby, however special that baby may be. We celebrate the truth that God has made himself accessible, available and approachable to us so that we too can enter into a deep spiritual relationship with him just as Mary did.
God is accessible because he has shared our fragile life and shown us that there is something about human nature that enables God to be recognised and experienced in and through it.
God is available because Jesus mingled among people, be it in the synagogue and Temple, in the streets, among the Gentiles, with the sick and the crowds, sharing meals with religious leaders and sinners or spending time relaxing with friends. He ‘loitered with intent’ so people could respond to him if they had eyes to recognise who he truly was.
To be available is one thing, but to be approachable is another. It is easier to be available than it is to be approachable. The outcast shepherds, the dignified Wise Men, the sick, vulnerable, immoral, the religious leadership and the desperate were able to approach God through Jesus for whatever reason they chose to do so.
This is the good news of Christmas. It is good news made possible through Our Blessed Lady and Joseph’s choice to trust God despite the religious and social risks involved in making their choice. In our culture in which people make choices that result in the death of others through abortion and supposedly for themselves in euthanasia, the choice for life must be made by those who rejoice that God who has given us the gift of life became one of us and is available, approachable and accessible to us.
I will allow John Betjeman to summarise why we celebrate this holy festival today.
Christmas by John Betjeman
And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?
And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.