A SHEPHERD SPEAKS

Bishop Fred Henry

December 5, 2011

An eight-year-old boy named Jason lived in the land of puzzling tales where the unexpected always happened.

Instead of football, they played knee-ball; instead of children going to school, the teachers went to homes. In the summer, it was not uncommon to see the water freeze; in the winter, leaves grew on the trees. It was a strange place.

One incident in the land of puzzling tales stands out, Jason's ninth birthday. As usual, the unusual happened. Jason's grandparents came from their home across the province to celebrate. When they got to Jason's neighbourhood, they went to the Brown's house down the street and stayed there.

When Jason's mother baked a birthday cake, she gave it to the letter carrier to eat.

When the neighbourhood kids heard it was Jason's birthday, they exchanged gifts with one another and, of course, Jason got none.

There was a blizzard of birthday cards. The post office had to hire extra workers to handle the deluge of cards. Of course, in the land of puzzling tales the expected was unexpected, and all the kids, the moms and dads, the grandparents, and even a couple of dogs and parakeets got cards, while poor Jason got none.

Finally, about nine o'clock that night, in a fit of frustration and anger, Jason borrowed the school cheerleader's megaphone, rode up and down the street on his unicycle and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Whose birthday is it, anyway?"

The night was so silent that the echoes bounced for hours off the mountain sides: "Whose birthday is it, anyway?"

If we feel deprived by the vapid emptiness of "the holidays," we should recall the origins of Christmas and consider how we can extend the grace of the Incarnation to our contemporary world.

"The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2.6).

This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: "you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1.31).

Ebenezer Scrooge, faced with the chains of greed shackled to the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley, was eventually converted to a life of Christian charity.

CNS PHOTO | DISNEY

Ebenezer Scrooge, faced with the chains of greed shackled to the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley, was eventually converted to a life of Christian charity.

This was the moment that God's people had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours - the moment that all humanity was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things.

ROOM FOR GOD, THE POOR, NEIGHBOUR?

In some way, we are still awaiting for God to draw near. But when the moment comes, all too frequently, there is no room for him. We are so preoccupied with ourselves, we have such urgent need of all the space and all the time for our own things, that nothing remains for others - for our neighbour, for the poor, for God. The more we fill up all the space by ourselves, the less room there is for others.

St. John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to the brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (John 1.11).

This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole.

Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of our affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum?

Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?

It is in our service of the world, in our defence of human rights, in our welcoming of migrants, in the promotion of forgiveness and the fostering of unity among peoples that the power of the Incarnation courses through today's world.

We are surrounded by many works of imagination that attempt to infuse the popular mind with the Christmas spirit. When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, he intended to redeem the bleak work ethic of Victorian England with a renewal of Christian charity.

Likewise, in the wake of the Great Depression Frank Capra sought, with It's a Wonderful Life, to revive a sense of community and the common good. Transforming imaginations is integral to incarnation.

CHILD OF BETHLEHEM

At Christmas we draw near to the child of Bethlehem, to the God who for our sake chose to become a child. In every child we see something of the Child of Bethlehem. Every child asks for our love.

This Advent, let us think especially of those children who are denied the love of their parents. Let us think of those children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace.

Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatized in the depths of their soul.

Let us also think of the mothers of these children who are also often the victims of poverty, abuse and exploitation. Let us stop funding abortion agencies, at home and abroad, which suggest to mothers that in order to save their own lives they must kill their babies, rather than provide them with safe comprehensive maternity care.