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Knock's Fr Richard Gibbons: 'Christmas is the antidote to humbug, despair and hopelessness'

Christmas is Christianity at its best, it’s the carols and the stories behind them, it’s the cribs, the community at prayer, writes Fr Richard Gibbons.

Fr Richard Gibbons Rector, Knock Shrine

SOMETIMES, AT THIS time of year, an air of despondency and jadedness can hit us. It may reflect on what is happening on a global or personal level.

On a global level it can come wrapped in words such as Brexit, North Korea, war, genocide, religious persecution etc. On a personal level it may be expressed in terms of sickness, homelessness, loneliness, addiction, relationship difficulties, the list goes on.

All of this can hit us at any time of the year really, but these issues seem to hit home a bit more as we head towards Christmas.

Why? Maybe it has to do with the fact that at Christmas we hear about “Peace on earth and goodwill towards all”. Maybe it’s the pressure to be happy, merry and joyful even when we might not feel like it.

Wearing us down

The preparation for the celebration might be wearing us down – the long lead in. I was genuinely taken aback, at the end of last August, by one shop in which the girl behind the counter told me that they were in the process of setting up their Christmas department in the store. In fairness to the girl she wasn’t happy about it either.

Too long a lead in and the build-up can cause indebtedness and unrealistic expectations for people trying to cope with life. The vampiric and soul destroying “black Friday” (which seems to go on for a week) doesn’t help either. A crass concept alien to our own culture which is simply another phrase for avarice or greed.

Sales are important but could we not even try to associate them around our own holidays, Halloween or around 8 December, the traditional day for shopping? I have seen black Friday in action in the US – the battle of Waterloo had more decorum. We don’t need that.

My point in all this is that even before we get to celebrate Christmas itself (which begins on Christmas day by the way and lasts twelve days) we are saturated by consumerism and trying for the perfect Christmas. As a result we begin to take on the mantle of Dickens’ Scrooge: Christmas? Bah, humbug.

Christmas is about being better people

Now for the positive part. Christmas is not just about being better people, not just for children, not just about presents or Santa or holidays from work or even family get togethers, all of which are wonderful.

Christmas is the antidote to humbug, despair and hopelessness. Christmas is about the birth of God to show us that we are not alone, we are wanted, loved and welcomed. God became one of us because we lose our way at times through the rigours of life. But we are not forgotten and have a destiny beyond this life.

I am well aware that many of you reading this may dismiss this as drivel, be that as it may, it is the message that has resonated for the last twenty centuries and a message that has shaped our heritage for the better.

Christmas is Christianity at its best, it’s the carols and the stories behind them, it’s the cribs, the community at prayer, the solidarity of goodness making a better world and it is Mass, at midnight and other times. Christmas is the eruption of God into the history of humanity.

The potential in a new baby

The birth of a child is a protest against that tired view that nothing changes. In any baby we see the potential of something wonderful and the blessing of God. To be born is to be gifted with a new beginning and a story that has yet to unfold. That is why a reverence for life, existing and yet to be, is reverence for the God of all life.

The birth of Christ calls for our own rebirth each year in that we are not defined by past mistakes but we have within ourselves the possibility of bettering ourselves and the world around us. The future is hopeful because of the birth of the Son of God.

In Knock, no more than elsewhere, we love Christmas and celebrate it with gusto.

Recently Handel’s Messiah was performed by the RTE Concert Orchestra marking its 275th anniversary in the Basilica. Around 3,500 people attended. We have numerous Christmas Masses and Midnight Mass, at midnight. We celebrate it in the Basilica because around 2,000 people attend it.

Blessings of Christmas

The point here is that whether we celebrate in a Basilica or our own parish Church, we do so because the birth of Christ still means something to us. It is good and gives us hope. If this is the only time you go to Mass during the year, you are most welcome. But please don’t sell yourself short for the rest of the year.

It is together we believe, together we celebrate, and together we support one another – we cannot do these things alone. The Christ child calls you back home and the Church is always a home for you.

I wish all of you the blessings of Christmas and in dismissing humbug I’ll leave the last words to Dickens’ tiny Tim: “God bless us, everyone”.

Fr Richard Gibbons is Parish Priest of Knock and Rector of Knock Shrine.

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About the author:

Fr Richard Gibbons  / Rector, Knock Shrine

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