One day of the year that I always mark with modest celebration is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, which occurred last Thursday. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas is a midwinter feast, a time when the days grow a little longer and light and warmth return slowly return to the earth. Light is mentioned again and again in today’s liturgy. On one of the darkest days of the year, light explodes all around us. The sun is sneaking back. A marvellous resonance with the gospel.
For those who live in the Southern Hemisphere, however, it is the beginning of summer. School is over. It is a time for long holidays for rest and relaxation. For them Christmas marks not the shortest day of the year but the longest. We may think it strange to celebrate Christmas on the beach, but this great festival is so rich in symbolism that wherever it is celebrated there is always something new that can be grasped from the profound truths at the heart of the Christmas message.
Do we go away to celebrate? Then so did the Holy Family. Do we gather at home with our family? So did all the angels gather round the stable in Bethlehem and make it their home. Are there just two or three of us together (at the most)? So we know that wherever two or three are gathered together the Holy Family is with them.
Is Christmas lonely and painful because of those we have lost? There is still room for us in the stable if not in the inn. A festival of peace, of gifts, of light, of love, of hope, of warmth. It is very difficult to find a Christian theme which does not fit into the celebration of the birth of Christ. So let us rejoice, because Christmas fits in everywhere, with universal application. For the truth remains that God comes among us in the person of Christ, and our lives are for ever changed.
Do you remember the weeks before Christmas? The waiting – looking for hidden Christmas presents in the cupboard; living one day for the next when you can open another little window on your advent calendar, if you had one? While I was preparing for this article God let me in on a secret. He allowed me to listen in on the conversation Mary had with Him when she became pregnant with His Son. The best I can do is to share it with you now.
“I am Mary. I just went into my room to pray. Then there arrived this beautiful stranger. He looked at me like no one has ever looked at me before. Surely he was a holy man, because when he embraced me I just melted. And it was as if he was giving himself to me in a way I had never experienced. Of course all my relatives have given me big hugs before, but this was completely different. It was as if I had been in heaven and seen God. Still more exciting, it was as if God had been inside me! Even telling it makes me glow all over again.”