The Christmas Story
The birth of Christ is a call, an invitation, to reimagine the world, the whole universe, and our place in it. To do so in the image of the One who came as Gift. The true nature of which, is to give itself away. Gift cultures have been known since the dawn of humanity. They are cultures that do not possess a word for ‘scarcity’; cultures in which the ‘gift spirit’ is not used up in use.
And in which, to gift one of our ‘creations’, our works of art, our poetry*, our time, our interest, our concern, is the surest way to make the next one possible. Because “Bestowal creates that empty space into which new energy may flow. The alternative is petrification, the flow of life backed up”. It would be difficult to imagine that the ‘gift’, as thus imagined, no longer survives in ‘secular’ Ireland. There are surely legions of people for whom it is not just a common practice, but a way of life, whose source and inspiration are profoundly rooted in the wellsprings of our ancient civilisation. And that, despite the incessant narrative of “secular, capitalist ‘cancel culture’”, there is something else.
There is ‘Good News’. and ‘Great Joy’. Because… ‘The people that walked in darkness Has seen a great light. On those who live in a land of deep shadow A light has shone….(Is 9:1) For there is a child born for us, A son is given to us, And this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace….(Is 9:5-6)
The ‘Gift’ has come to us. Gratuitous. Self-emptying. A Gift that it is not worn out with use. That circles back to its source. And that does not know scarcity. How to replicate that and live it out, nurture and witness it in our own instinctively ‘ego-driven’ lives? Not allow it to be lost in an increasingly narcissistic entitlement culture, where the Gift, turned inwards and made redundant, becomes a burden? Impossible to do, it would seem, unless we avoid the traps, the potholes and the seductions of the journey. And unless, like the three Wise Men, we find another way back to where we truly belong. (Mt:2-12).
The way back, I would suggest, is as pilgrim people in a worshipping community, in solidarity with the brokenness of the world. A people with a ‘Centre’** without which we will lose our way. Jubilant at the birth of Emmanuel, the one who has come to dwell in our midst as one among us. And ever mindful to recall “The sense of mystery surrounding our lives… our sense of pity and beauty and pain… the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation…the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts….the solidarity which binds together all humanity… the dead, to the living and the living to the unborn”.***
** Ditto, p153
*** Ditto p152