Darkness, of course, is a powerful metaphor for the many painful experiences that can overshadow our lives. I think of the darkness that can overwhelm us in grief, or in tragedy, or when we have been hurt, disappointed or abused by someone we trusted. I think of the ‘dark times’ we are experiencing as individuals and as a country because of the current economic crisis. The Sacred Scriptures speak to us of the darkness of sin, of our tendency to let selfishness and pride block our immense capacity for generosity and love.
The simple, compelling truth we celebrate at Christmas is that into all of this darkness, God has sent us the purest and brightest light of all. He has sent his only Son, so that we might have life and have it to the full. He came, not as a powerful, commanding leader but as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, born in the lowliness of a manger.
Few scenes capture the utter commitment of God to each of us and to the future of humanity more than this iconic, captivating image of the birth of our Saviour. God was so wise to offer us salvation in such a simple and compelling way. What had more hope of challenging the selfishness, pride and greed that threaten to destroy us than the simplicity, dignity and wonder of a new born child? What could set us free from our preoccupation with having rather than being and living for others more than the uncluttered, compelling intimacy of the manger?
Deep down, I believe we all yearn for a gentler, kinder and more generous world, the kind of world that Christmas represents. I believe we yearn for a less complicated, less anxious and less frenetic life than the busy, sometimes cruel, consume-all-you-can kind of life that exhausts so much of our time and energy today.
This is my hope and my prayer for Christmas 2011, that each of us will rediscover the simplicity, hope and joy of that first Christmas. I pray that Ireland as a country will become a gentler, kinder, more compassionate, more caring and more neighbourly place. Just as those Christmas lights broke through the cold and dark of the Cavan countryside when I was young, I pray that the generosity, reverence for God and respect for God’s creation that has been our hallmark and gift to the world since the time of St. Patrick, will continue to break through the many dark clouds that have engulfed our country in recent years. I pray that we will rediscover our Christian soul and our caring, neighbourly spirit as we gaze upon the utter love of God and his plans for a peaceful world in the new born child in the manger.
As we prepare to welcome people from all over the world to Dublin for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in June of next year, I also pray in humility and in hope that those who through anger, or hurt, or disillusionment, or distraction have become disconnected from their local parish community, will rediscover the joy, the hope and the love which is at the heart of our faith. I hope that they will find the strength and courage to see beyond the human failings of individuals and rediscover the beauty, the consolation and the strength for living that comes from Communion with Christ and with one another, in the Eucharist, the theme of the International Eucharist Congress. I pray that this Christmas, many people will rediscover the peace and joy of the Mass, where Christ is born among us always.
May Christ, and his life and goodness, be born in each of us and in our country this Christmas and may we find in Him our greatest hope in challenging times.
Archbishop of Armagh
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