Go and be welcomed

Below is the text of my first homily given at All Saints ANeW at the Saturday vigil service for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.

St Alphonsus Rodriguez S.J. blessing St Peter Claver S.J.

THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – YEAR A

Matthew 10:40-42

Good evening, how are you all?

I’m certainly blessed to be with you in the presence of God, to hear Jesus speaking to us.

In fact, if you look in a red-letter bible, you’ll see that almost the whole of chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel is red. It’s almost all Jesus speaking.

This evening, we heard only three short verses, but these three, short, verses are densely packed.

They come right at the very end of the chapter in which Jesus calls and commissions the 12 apostles. These are the final words he gives to the chosen disciples in preparation for the mission he will give them.

These 12 men were given the apostolic task of extending the Kingdom: which is still the task of the apostolic ministry, which has continued to this day.

Jesus said in the previous chapter that the harvest is great, but the workers are few.

He has said that some towns will accept them and others will not: that some won’t like the message that they bring, and those who reject Jesus will surely reject his disciples.

Jesus told them to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves,

and he promised that He is with them, even as he sends them out; and that God the Father knows each of them intimately.

Now in the Old Testament, God sent the prophets; in the New Testament, Jesus sends the disciples.

The prophets carried God’s message to the Nation of Israel. The disciples carry the message to the nations.

Jesus brought the revelation of God’s plan of salvation to the Earth; the disciples are now being prepared to carry it to the ends of the earth.

Jesus says:

40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

There is a story in the memoirs of St Alphonsus Rodriguez. Now I love this story.

When Alphonsus was 26, he married his love Maria, and they had three children. Five years after they were married, his wife and two of his children had died and in his grief he turned to the Lord and dedicated himself to prayer.

After his third child died, when he was 39, he decided to enter a religious order and so he joined the Jesuits. He wasn’t well-educated, he was never ordained as a priest, he never wrote a theological treatise, and never served as a missionary.

Instead, he was given a humble position as the porter; a position he held for 46 years until he died.

Alphonsus says that each time the bell rang, he looked at the door and imagined that it was Jesus standing on the other side. He said that each time he went to open the door, he went with the words ‘I’m coming, Lord’.

We often want to be the ones doing the welcoming, but being the ones who are welcoming means being the ones who are staying at home. Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to stay at home waiting for people to come along. He asked them to go out. He sent them on mission.

It would be natural and right and good for us to read these three verses and hear Jesus to asking us to be welcoming.

It would be true to the spirit of the Gospel and to our lives as Christians, and yes, we should welcome others as if we were welcoming God, but I don’t believe that is Jesus’ intention here.

If we listen a little more deeply as Jesus speaks to the disciples, I think that what we’ll hear is Jesus’ instructions to the disciples about how they can recognise true and reverent welcome, that honours God.

I’ll read the passage again, and when you listen this time, keep in mind that the ones who do the welcoming are those yet to receive the Gospel, and the ones who are being welcomed are those bringing the Gospel.

40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

To hear what Jesus is saying here, it’s helpful if we can shift our focus away from seeing ourselves as ones welcoming, to seeing ourselves as the ones carrying the Gospel out and being welcomed, and we’ll see what difference that would make to the way we love God and love others.

What if we, as the church, as those called by Jesus Christ and commissioned by him to be his hands and feet in the world, what if we truly saw ourselves as the disciples?

Are we missionaries, or are we the ones receiving missionaries?

Our church supports a number of missionaries, and I don’t know about you, but I know that I often see missionaries as those who are able to drop everything and go serve somewhere else. I mean, I have a family and obligations. How can I be a missionary, but is this what a missionary is? Can we not also be missionaries in our daily lives?

How are we as a church family living out our calling to be a community of mission?

How are you living out your daily calling as a missionary?

God has given each of us a task, a specific way that God, being gracious, has invited us to exercise His ministry in service of the community. We Christians imbue the activities and institutions of society with moral values. If you have received the Gospel, Jesus is asking you to share it.

In going out, seeking to be welcomed and to share the Gospel, it is important that we also live in a way that is worthy of welcome. To be welcomed as a righteous person, we must indeed be righteous.

Without God’s grace and mercy, we find that it is very difficult to live in a way that shows others that God is Holy, Good and worthy of honour, and so we pray that God would send his Spirit to sanctify our lives.

Many people upon hearing the saving message of Jesus think it’s all too difficult, they question whether they are worthy and they are tempted to give up before they have begun. Sin skews our vision in this way so that we’re made blind to its effects, which are death. We can feel so caught in sin that we cannot be saved. Even if they are willing to receive the Gospel with faith, they may feel that they have nothing to give in return.

Jesus has given us the tools here to comfort and encourage those who are poor and poor in spirit. Jesus clearly says that being able to give nothing in return does not mean that you cannot receive the Gospel. Our Christian hope transcends unbelief, shame, and unworthiness.

At the time Jesus lived, those who were poor may not have even had fuel to spare to light a light and boil water, but Jesus says that “even a cup of cold water” is enough to receive his disciples, and so receive Him.

God sees you in your suffering, in your pain, and in your poverty of spirit, and he sends his disciples and thereby, his Son, to walk with you. We do not need to wait to be with Jesus: His Spirit is with us.

God bears with us, even when the work seems difficult, or even impossible.

He shows up again and again to walk with us, and I’m sure if we had a chat later on, you could tell me times where God has come alongside you. I would love to hear those stories if you’re willing to share.

But what of welcoming as we usually think of it? Well it might be helpful if we reframe the purpose of welcoming, in terms of inviting.

When we welcome people into our church services and activities, we are not welcoming them with our own authority. The gift of the Gospel and Church, as the body of Christ, is not ours to give on our own terms, but instead, we are called to lay ourselves aside, offer the Gospel in the love which which we received it and pray that they would welcome Jesus, who sends us.

So in welcoming others to church, we invite them to come with us and be welcomed by the God who embraces all of his children.

This passage is both an assurance of blessing and a call to action.

We are called to BE disciples: To be doers of the Word and not hearers only.

God humbly came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, taking on our human nature, and Jesus now asks that we would humble ourselves in imitation of Him, going outside of ourselves, and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, allowing others to welcome us and the Gospel that we bring.

Yes, we will be despised and rejected by some, and welcomed by others, but we should not be afraid. God is in control, and we should set our eyes on Him with a love that greater than the love we have for anything else.

We have not been asked to do this work alone, but we are commanded to do it, and Jesus has shown us in these verses what true welcome looks like from those who have hearts open to him.

We are all missionaries in our God-given ways, called to serve God and one another in the capacities He has given us.

But to do so, we need to go out and be welcomed.

So as we finish this chapter of the Gospel, and as we come up this evening to receive communion with faith, we are assured of Jesus’ love for each one of us, of his welcoming presence with us, and we can have confidence to take the Gospel out into the world.

May each of you know his love today and forever.

Amen.

The Fight

Intensity rages, confused chaos looms,
Are we mad enough?
Are we sad enough?
Silence slams the door as she leaves
To fend off our pain, through the tears, through the screams.

Violence surges on into the night,
Lightning flashes and gas burns our eyes!
Afront God’s own house, take your picture before us!
You’ve fallen and still,
We run from the Lawless.

Acid, turbulence.
War, never-ending.
Pray, turn to Christ
Let the Devil not rise,
With his mask and baton,
See through him and find
The man down there trapped
Just like us, in his pride.

Warlord by nature
The fault of the Fall
Though not by Design,
lest conspiracy call.
Burst forth, Lord, from darkness,
Awake from the night!
Light up the world
With Love; your true might.

Why we need a theology of climate change in the 21st century

I co-authored this article with Katrina Baldacchino. It will be published in the February/March 2019 edition of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle’s magazine, Encounter, issues of which are hosted at Issuu.

Alex Grey GAIA 1989, 144 x 96 in. oil on linen.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1)

At God’s Word, the universe exploded into being and all that exists was lovingly formed and illumined. Life was drawn forth to fill everypatch of land, every breath of air, every drop of ocean. Earth is intrinsically valuable to God. “God saw everything he had made, and indeed it was very good”(Gen 1:31). Take a moment to look heavenward, and stand in awe at the vast and intricate ways in which the natural universe works. God is constantly creating, fine-tuning Earth’s ecosystems, and endowing each living thing with dignity and purpose; drawing all into communion with Himself.

God has entrusted the sacred work of caring for His garden to us. We in the 21st century are struggling to fulfil our inherited responsibility. We have become starkly aware of our unintended power to change the Earth’s climate. We could easily push our world off-track. Perhaps we already have. So we might ask ourselves how we intend to respond to this power, in light of our ever-present responsibility to God.

It is often said that the future of the church, of our society, and of our world, rests on the shoulders of children. It is true thatchildren will inherit the world we leave them, yet they also participate inthat responsibility here and now. If a child asked you today what it means tofollow Jesus, what might you say? What could we say, knowing that we are calledin this era to follow Jesus through potential climatic upheaval, brought aboutby the hands of humankind? What example might we set our children to guide themin an ecologically uncertain future while honouring the great work of God?

To honour God is to ensure the ongoing flourishing of the earth and all that live on it. In his renowned encyclical Laudato Si, PopeFrancis reminds us that “The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. … Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” Our ability to carry out our duty requires that we experience our interdependence with and reliance on nature. We cannot separate ourselves from the world created for us. Indeed, God becomingincarnate as a biological and sensate being emphasises the significance of thenatural. God, as a man, was reliant on the very world whose existence issimultaneously sustained by God!

The fruits of following Christ extend outwards from the continual renewing of the individual soul, to participation in the cultural, political and environmental context in which we live. As Mick Pope, an Australian ecotheologian, has written; “personal righteousness and public justice are on the same continuum…” The fulfilment of justice requires a spiritof ecological conversion; a turning away from the technologically saturated,consumer driven, chaotic and traumatised world, and towards a renewedexperience of the simplicity of God, seen through Creation.

Jesus, who is God, and is a revelation of God’s love for theworld, asked us to love one another. “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). In the 21stcentury, to love our neighbour means that we love the planet that sustains us,taking only what we need for life and worship. Followers of Jesus ought to be recognised for their love of the natural world, while they joyfully await the perfection of the world through Christ.

Our desires have had unintended consequences for the climate and the world’s ecosystems. What might we say to our children as they ask about climate change and Christian faith? Changing the course of human desire is difficult, but only if we rely on ourselves. Jesus continually offers us the means. As we share in communion regularly, we develop humility and experience God with us. We are reminded that God is present in the living world and in us.We need reminding. We need a theology that can heal the world. As Pope Francissays “Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop aspirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of theTrinity”. We need then to stop, close the books, and allow our children to leadus in looking heavenward, with all of their hope, enthusiasm, and life.

The Visitation

Below is the text of my second homily, given for the Fourth Sunday in Advent.

The Visitation – Jerónimo Ezquerra (1660 – 1733)

THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT – YEAR C

Hebrews 10:5-10 & Luke 1:26-38

Christmas is not yet here, and so on this fourth Sunday in Advent, we still have time to prepare our hearts as we wait to recognise the coming of our Lord in the birth of Jesus Christ, son of Mary, and son of the Most High.

Let’s reflect on the gift that we are about to receive and how we might prepare to receive Him.

Giving a gift is an act of love. In giving a gift, weseparate something from our self for the good of another. We make a loving sacrifice. When we are presented with a gift, we are presented with an invitation: an invitation to respond with thanksgiving. We are invited to enter more fully into the promise of a relationship that a gift offers, and this requires that we orient ourselves towards the other, not only in our attitude, but in our action.

Now, try to remember the best gift you’ve ever received. It might have been for your birthday, or Christmas, whatever the occasion, remember that gift. Think about what it felt like as you unwrapped it. Did you carefully peelaway the wrapping, or did you tear it open in excitement? What happened inside you when you saw it for the first time? What did you feel? Were your surprised? Did you laugh? Did you cry? Did you stare at it in wonder?

A carefully chosen gift matches the precise character and needs of the person receiving it. A well-chosen gift makes us feel loved, makes us feel seen for who we are.

The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews has Jesus referencing the burnt offerings and sin offerings that were required according to the Law of Moses, he then adds “See, God, I have come to do your will.”

It is written that Jesus abolishes the first in order to establish the second, and yet Jesus said he has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it, and so he does. The coming of Jesus Christ and His victorious work on the cross is the great Yes to all the promises made to Israel.

He is the gift from God that perfectly meets the character and needs of the people of Israel.

For us Christians not to understand the temple, the prophets, the covenant and the Law is not to understand the person of Jesus Christ. All these things bring God and humankind together. They exist to align the will of God’s people with the will of God. At the heart of Christianity, we have the perfection of this alignment in one man, the perfect union of human and Divine, the perfection that Israel had so longed, waited, and hoped for.

And so we also wait, and we prepare.

For the first half of Advent, the readings have focussed our hearts and minds on the second coming of Christ, but in these last two weeks, our focus shifts to his first coming, and on this final Sunday, now so close to Christmas, the Gospel readings hone in on the pregnant mother of our Lord.

We pick up the story just after the Angel Gabriel has announced to Mary that she will bear a son. Mary has responded with her great Yes to God’s promise.

In saying Yes, she has offered herself as the new ark of the covenant, the ark that will hold and keep safe the Word of God until he enters the world at Christmas. She offers her motherly lap as the throne on which the infant Christ will sit. But what does she do then? What should we do once we trust in God’s promises? Mary gives us the model to follow.

The reading starts: ‘Mary set out and went with haste”. Her faithful response to God is followed by action. She sets out. Her faith is not idle. She has been given a promise by God, and in that promise, she finds purpose, which she runs to share in communion with another.

When she entered the house of Zechariah, she greeted Elizabeth. This greeting is an echo of the greeting Mary received from theAngel Gabriel. Mary comes to Elizabeth bearing good news of the gift of Salvation. Mary comes bearing a gift from God.

Upon receiving Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, the Essence of God that is given by the Father, received by the Son, and poured out on the disciples at Pentecost in the self-giving love of the Trinity.

Elizabeth says to Mary “Blessed is she who believed”. But how is she blessed? Blessed here means a joy which is serene and untouchable. It is disconnected from the distractions and trappings of the world, the constant temptation to look away from God.

It is a blessedness which is grounded in faith and in the promises of God, and so cannot be touched, and yet it is a blessedness that would come to pierce the Blessed Mother’s heart as she watched her son die on the cross.

Upon receiving Mary’s greeting, her child leapt in her womb. John the Baptist recognises Christ and rejoices. Even in the womb, John recognised his Lord – such was his purpose.

We know that John will soon call us to repentance and baptism in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. John calls us to repent in order that we too might recognise Christ. So how can we hope to recognise our Lord if we are not facing Him? The first step in preparing to receive the gift of Salvation made present at Christmas, is to confess our sins and turn to Christ.

Is it possible for anyone to know you better than you know yourself? It is a difficult thing to believe, and we easily slip back into thinking that we know what is best for ourselves, and that we must prove ourselves worthy. When we live this way, are we living in the Grace of God? TheGrace of God is not that he has graciously provided some means for us to earn our way into Heaven: that is pride. No, the gates of the Kingdom are already open to all, and yet we all suffer from the blindness of pride. We all think we know ourselves, our desires and our needs better than anyone else, including God. If we think we have nothing to confess, we may well be mistaken. All are called to repentance.

In these last days of Advent, can I encourage you to examine your conscience? Would it help you to prayerfully review your thoughts, words, and deeds at the end of the day? If we can build up a habit of confessing our sins to one another, continually turning to Christ, we might better prepare ourselves to respond to the invitation of God’s love this Christmas.

Left on our own, our natural tendency is to drift along the wide road, away from God. The good news that Mary shares with Elizabeth is that we have not been left alone. We have been called to enter the narrow gate. We will each be given an invitation this Christmas. Will we respond with our lives?

God, in his infinite love, graces us with his eternal presence in a way that precisely meets each of us in our particular character and needs. Christianity is truly catholic, truly universal, the perfect gift given by God to all the people of the world. God knows the desires of your heart, but more than that he sees and shares in your need, and in your suffering, and he offers you Himself.

My heart turns to those who will join us for Christmas, those who have not been here in a while, and those who we might not see again for some time. I ask you to pray about how you might embrace them. I pray that something might stir in them during our Christmas celebrations, that they might hear the call and the beauty of the life of the church, its seasons, and its loving people. I pray that we too might even today as we share communion together, know that we are receiving the perfect gift, the gift that Mary bears for us: God Himself.

The Lord be with you.

Netflix on 2+ screens using a single screen account

Netflix mobile downloadThe Netflix mobile app provides the option of downloading (select) titles. This effectively means your family can watch Netflix on 2 or more screens using only a 1 screen account. Just download the shows onto your device(s), then turn off your data and watch them while someone else watches a what they want via streaming. Cheap and simple!

Learning the Virtues – Romano Guardini

An excellent book. Guardini expounds the intricacies of each virtue firstly as commonly understood, then in their subtlety as illuminated by grace, and finally the manner in which they emmanate from the character of God.
Full of wisdom leading towards personal responsibility and Godly depth of character, ‘Learning the Virtues’ awakens a longing for one’s own potential; not as a possession of the individual, but as a gift from God, which we each must cultivate.

The Annunciation

Below is the text of my first homily, given for the Fourth Sunday in Advent.

Annunciation – Caravaggio – 1608

THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT – YEAR B

Luke 1:26-38 – The Annunciation

‘In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slowly. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention, and in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.’ – Pico Iyer (adapted)

Like most people, I used to think that life was about finding happiness. “We don’t mind what you do, son,” my parents would tell me, “as long as you are happy.” At that time I was actively seeking, and happiness was near the top of my list.

At one point, I accidentally stumbled on a secret piece of advice that I have forgotten many times, but try to remind myself of whenever I can. It is this: “I don’t care about happiness!” Now that might sound crazy, but when I honestly said that to myself for the first time what I was actually doing was letting go of the pursuit. It was then that I recognised that what I was seeking was already there, present within me. So it is with God.

Advent is the season of the exalted secret. Within the darkness and hiddenness of the womb is where all the excitement is going on.

In today’s reading, the Annunciation to Mary, the angel announces that God is reaching out to the world. God is extending His divine love into and through the barriers of arrogance, through our enviousness, desperation, and grief; through our possessiveness and confusion.

God has announced his intention to re-form His covenant with humanity, through the humility and faithfulness of this one young woman. This is not the beginning of the story, but it is a beginning; a beginning woven within Mary and her response to God’s call on her life. Today, the angel Gabriel announces news of the imminent beginnings of God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Great as this news is, notice that it is not announced in triumphant fanfare for all to hear. It is whispered, in private, by an angel of God.

‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!’

We hear that Mary was perplexed at the way that she was greeted, and the angel said to her “Do not be afraid.” God’s call on our life can be frightening, it can be unsettling and we, in our confusion and need for control so often turn away, back to the patterns of behaviour so ingrained in us over so many years: Our familiar and misguided ways of being.

‘Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word’.

Mary’s response to God’s call on her life has been held up to us by the church as a model to follow in our own responses. One that is full of grace, and favoured by God. Through her example, we are led to a life of devotion, to God and to our neighbours who we are called to love.

The ‘Yes’ that Mary offered was not “Yes, I will do this”, but “Yes, I will gently move aside and allow this to happen in and through me.”

Through humbling herself, Mary was exalted. Mary became for us the living temple through which God humbly entered His own creation.

Christmas is a time of renewal. Our Hope is in God made flesh, and our faith is in humbly turning away from ourselves to pay attention to God whispering in our lives.

The humility of Mary is in the recognition of herself as the one who will never stand against the radiant love of God, for there can be no bounds to the infinity of His love. She lifted herself up to God as the one through whom this divine love was to be poured into Creation in the person of Jesus Christ.

We are all called to be Mary, we are all called to say Yes to God in this way, giving our consent to the presence of God in our lives, and allowing Christ to be born into the world through us.

To follow Christ is to sell all that we have, a message the world is loath to hear, particularly at Christmas. We must empty ourselves so that God may work through us. Our life of following in the Way of the Cross is a life of continual conversion, the daily renewal of your decision, with Mary, to say Yes to God.

At Christmas, we will celebrate and remember the gift God gave us in love: Himself. Today, still in Advent, we celebrate and remember the gift Mary gave God: His humanity.

The gifts that we give at Christmas, as beautiful and thoughtful as they are, will ultimately degrade, break or become lost. They are merely symbolic of the true gifts that we give: the gift of love we are called to have for one another.

Now, of course, I’m sure you’ll immediately think of a few people in your life you find pretty difficult to love. And that’s ok. All you need to do is to say to God, ‘Look, I find myself unable to love this person, but Lord you love them. Please love them through me.’

If there is only one message of the Gospel, it is the message of the love of God. And if there is only one characteristic by which the world recognises us as Christians, it is how we love each other and those we meet along the way.

God chose to enter the world as a man, and Mary gave her assent, choosing to fully participate in the incarnation of the Lord. Christ is not forceful. Christ is gentle. He asks our permission to enter our lives, and through us, to enter the world. Once we give that permission, a seed is planted and our lives slowly grow into the shape of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

As we draw closer to the Eucharist this morning, let us lift up our hearts as a chalice to the Lord. Let us allow Christ to fill us with His grace. Let us be vulnerable in faith before God and let the knowledge of the imminent birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ allow us to love one another in humility.

May we each become bearers of Christ this Christmas, living by the beauty of Mary’s example. Let us say Yes to God and allow Jesus, the Living Word to be born into the world through us.

 The Lord be with you.

Paint a Nativity play backdrop

2017 Nativity Play backdrop

To make this Nativity backdrop, I used a queen-sized, navy blue sheet as the canvas. I chose this colour so that I wouldn’t have to paint the entire sheet and still have a beautiful colour for the silent night sky.

First, wash and dry the sheet. It’s probably also best to iron it, although I didn’t go that far.

To start your design, find an image that you like that you can appropriate. I chose a Nativity icon I found here.

It’s best to sketch out your design in a rectangle with the same proportions as the sheet you’ll be painting on. Divide the drawing with a grid so that it’s easier to upscale your design onto the sheet.

Nativity design sketch (my son decided to help)

When you’re ready, stretch your sheet out on the floor and pin the corners down. I used tables as they were heavy enough and available.

Stretched sheet

Using chalk, mark out the grid intervals on the edges of the sheet, but don’t draw lines across the sheet.

Use a tape measure in place of a grid line if you want to measure the relative position of an element.

Draw out your scene in chalk.

Once you have your scene sketched, start painting. Start with white paint in any areas you wish to be bright (like the stars). I thought I would need to do this under the leaves etc as well, but as I ran out of good quality white paint, and the paint the Sunday school had was watery, I had to go with straight colour, which came out quite nicely anyway.

Don’t be afraid to mix colours and see what works. If you need some advice on painting, check out Mural Joe on Youtube.

2017 Nativity Play backdrop

An Unfamiliar Love

It can be hard to love our family. Our family hold insight into our lives that is often hidden from our friends and enemies. When familial ties are damaged or under strain, we instinctively feel vulnerable. Christmas gatherings can be a time of submerged confrontation. For the sake of our children and ageing parents, we play nicely so as to avoid the hurt and embarrassment of arguments around the table.

This may not be descriptive of your Christmas, and I hope it is not, but for some, it will be. Like any other time of year, this can be one of suffering. It can be difficult to remember the joy of Christmas.

In forming His human body, God the Son glorified Himself and began the process of clarifying and perfecting Creation. The whole of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, is one family. All life shares the same basic molecular structures that allow our cells to replicate and function. As a human being grows in its mother’s womb, the cells that comprise the webbing of its paddling hands and feet are programmed to die, so that fingers and toes capable of dexterity and control can form.

At least at this level, death seems inherent and necessary for the formation of life. We can only assume that in the fullness of His humanity, it was in this way that Jesus Christ, like us, came into the world. It is through death that new life arises. The Divine Invasion at Christmas was, and is, the explosion of hope and life into a muddied and dying world.

This Christmas, as you sit at the other end of the table from whomever it is in your life that has done you wrong, consider their suffering and their need for kindness. Consider the difficulty we all have in bearing the weight of our own lives. Consider His words about those that crucified Him: “Father, Forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Without the love of Christ, the experience of cruelty can drive us to view the world as fundamentally meaningless and deeply scornful. A desire to subjugate the world to the will of the individual is both a cause and symptom of suffering. Loving those who have hurt us means choosing to peer through the veil of cruelty to see the suffering hiding there.

Through the kind eyes of the newborn Christ, we can see afresh those who inflict harm. It is they who are most desperately in need of the tenderness and unfamiliar love of God.

May you bear His gentleness in your actions,

May He bless your family through you, and

May you live in the joy of Christmas.