Robbie Williams has a song out at the moment called ‘Can’t Stop Christmas’. It reflects on how hard the year has been, while issuing a rallying cry to celebrate Christmas. Even though we may not feel like celebrating Christmas, and there are sadly very good reasons for that, there was never a time Christmas was more needed than it is now. Joy, light, peace, love, hope and faith come easier to us when life is good, but they are more important and more necessary when life is difficult.
Isaiah, in prophesying the birth of Jesus said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone.” We can’t but feel that we have walked through a lot of darkness and experienced more gloom than normal this year. It is a year we are unlikely to ever forget. Practically everyone has found it tough, but for many it has been a particularly awful year as the impact of covid is felt all the harder when you have to cope with sickness, anxiety, bereavement, loneliness, isolation and financial strain.
We naturally wonder where God is in it all? For me, even in the greatest darkness, I believe there is a light, if we but look for it. And the more you look for it, the more you will find it. So where is God in it all? He is present in our hospitals, nursing homes and care homes, in the love and care shown by health and social care workers. He is in the kindness shown by the Gardaí, in the dedication of principals and teachers trying to ensure our children can attend school. He is in the warmth and patience of the staff in our shops and pharmacies. He is in the hope given to us by our children, the affection shown to us by family, neighbours and friends, albeit in different ways. Rather than focus on the worry, on the increasing numbers and the res-trictions, let’s focus on the hope, the love and the courage. If there is some-thing more contagious than the virus, it is hope, love and courage.
Scrooge was visited by the ghost of Christmas past – we would give our right arm to experience Christmas as we knew it. We all long for things to be as they were. This is natural and yet our faith reminds us that we only ever have this present moment. Looking back to the past or longing for the future means we might miss out on what is. We can only live in the moment and we can get through almost anything if we just focus on and live in the present moment. Instead of being preoccu-pied about and lamenting what we don’t have this year, let’s remember what we do have and be grateful for it. Without doubt, it is such a shame that Christ-mas is different this year. However, it may also be a gift to us all. It is only when something is changed or taken away from us that we realise how much we have taken certain things for granted in our lives. Hopefully we will be surprised by joy this Christmas and at a future point our Christmases may become even more meaningful as we will have a new-found appreciation for what we had often taken for granted.
We have romantic images in our heads about the first Christmas. Do we ever actually think of how hard it all was? Travelling for days while heavily pregnant, being stranded with no place to stay, and having to resort to a stable on a cold winter’s night and soon after having to flee in fear. There was nothing romantic about any of this. And yet our God purposely chose to step into the world, not with any display of wealth, comfort or power, but in the midst of vulnerability, poverty and pain. The people who are hurting and wishing Christmas away are the very people for whom Christmas is really about. Christmas reminds us that God became one of us and became at one with us so that we would know that, whatever we go through, we are not alone. In a moment in time God became visible. He drew near and was no longer a notion or an idea but a person wrapped in skin, in the form of a helpless baby. The name given to Jesus was Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God is with us’. It is more than a name, it’s a promise, a promise we need now more than ever. Irrespective of how low, lonely, or isolated we are, the message of Christmas is that we are not alone. God is with us and within us. Isaiah talked about the people who have walked in darkness seeing a great light. May that great light rise in our hearts this Christmas and lift our spirits. Christmas is the promise of better things to come – we hold onto the hope of this promise, trusting that because of Christmas we are never truly alone and that there is always hope.

Fr. Chris O’Donnell.