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Thursday 21 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Fr Richard Gibbons 'When was the last time you did something truly selfless for someone else, even if they didn’t deserve it?'
Fr Gibbons – of Knock – writes about finding the true meaning of Christmas even when things feel hard.

THE FOLLOWING IS a dialogue from a school nativity play written, acted and directed by a class of 9 year olds.

It opens with the scene at the Inn. Joseph and Mary ask for a room overlooking Bethlehem:

Innkeeper: Can’t you see the ‘No Vacancy’ sign?
Joseph: Yes, but can’t you see that my wife is expecting a baby any minute?
Innkeeper: Well, that’s not my fault!
Joseph: Well, it’s certainly not mine either!

I’m taking the chance that the little scene above may have brought you a smile. Maybe it brings you back to plays in which you, as a child, were in for Christmas or maybe
the recent ones over the past number of days when your little one(s) were doing you proud in front of the assembled school.

Whatever the case we all need a laugh, a chance to see the lighter side of life from time to time. We like to be in the company of people who are witty and have a sense of humour – they lighten our cares and worries for a time at least.

Christmas gives us the opportunity to smile, to engage with each other in a different
way more than any other time of the year. It draws from within us a rich meaning of how we should treat each other in a fairer, more compassionate, more humane and generous way.

Christmas joy

I know you may be thinking of situations where you may be with other people you don’t want to be with this Christmas or social situations which can be toxic. I know you are right in asking well, how can I smile or laugh when I’m spending another Christmas with my children in a hotel or my relationship has just collapsed, a family member has just died or I’m ill?

Christmas joy does not come from the absence of all the worries, cares and losses in life but rather from the understanding that Christ is present to us in them and throughout our lives.

Don’t be afraid, the Lord tells us constantly in scripture – joy comes from an open heart that dispels fear and is ready to accept whatever is thrown at us not in a despairing way but with the hope that through faith and good works, through our ability to seek justice and look for the common good, though a smile or kind word, we will overcome adversity.

On the third Sunday of Advent the Gospel presented John the Baptist to us with people asking him “What must we do?”(to be saved) He answered these people who were tax
collectors, soldiers and others who came to him with practical advise: share what you have with those who have not, exact no more tax than the rate, no intimidation, no extortion, be content with your pay (by the way, nobody claims that John was an economist!).

John was pointing towards a solidarity between human beings based in the love of God to do good. John was positioning people to be ready to meet He who can lead us out of the darkness of human sin into the dawn of solidarity, truth and the love of God. As St Athanasius of Alexandria said centuries ago “He [Jesus] became what we are that he might make us what he is.”


Just ask yourself, when was the last time you did something truly selfless for someone
else, even if they didn’t deserve it? Did that bring you joy or a contentment in knowing it was the right thing to do? The joy that comes from truly Christian living comes alive each day we offer to people our hope, our presence, our prayers and even our laughter. It comes with the understanding that our ultimate reward is not here in this present life but in the glory to come, eternal life.

That is the real promise of Christmas.

The practicalities of Christmas: bringing family together, the gift giving, making an extra effort in our relationships and being aware of and helping the less fortunate should not be just confined to this time of the year of course but echo throughout the year itself – resolution anyone? Don’t be afraid!

In wishing you a very happy Christmas my prayer for you from Knock Shrine in the
year ahead is from St Paul:

“Always be joyful, then, in the Lord; I repeat, be joyful. Let your good sense be obvious to
everybody. The Lord is near. Never worry about anything; but tell God all your desires of
every kind in prayer and petition shot through with gratitude, and the peace of God which is beyond our understanding will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4: 4-7)

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

Fr Richard Gibbons
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