Christmas is a magical time of year for children – and even for many ‘older children’ among us – as they look forward to Christmas morning and discovering what presents they’ve got this year.
Our tradition of giving gifts owes its origin to the account of the nativity in Matthew’s gospel. There we read how the Magi travelled from the east, searching for “the one who had been born king of the Jews”. They followed a star which led them to a house in Bethlehem. “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh”.
Magical though the festive season is, it can be bitter-sweet, too. It’s a time for reflection. Since last Christmas, we’ve seen war return to Europe, with thousands of people killed in Ukraine and millions displaced. Here at home, many people have been struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and that terrible dilemma: whether to heat or eat. I think of those battling against illness, or wrestling with addiction, or consumed by grief for a lost loved one. I think back to the twin tragedies at Enagh Lough, in August, and Creeslough, last October. The pain of loss can be felt most acutely at this time of year.
Last September, too, of course, we lost our beloved sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. The late Queen drew strength, she said, from the message of hope in the Christian Gospel. In one of her many Christmas messages, she told us how much she relied on her faith to guide her through the good times and the bad. The only way to live her life, she said, was to try to do what was right, to take the long view, to give her best in all that the day brought, and to put her trust in God.
King Charles III faces an almost insurmountable task in seeking to emulate his late mother; but I am certain he will rise to the challenge, beginning at 3pm on Christmas Day when he delivers his first Christmas message. He will certainly be in my thoughts and prayers. So, too, will you.
I pray that you will discover what the Magi knew – and what our late Queen found out – that the greatest gift any of us can ever receive is Jesus Christ. His message of hope is fortifying and transformational for those who receive it and those who witness it.
Remarkably, that gift is there for all of us, if we want it. His is ‘the King’s message’ that I want you to hear this Christmas.
I wish you and your loved ones the peace of Christ.
+Andrew Derry & Raphoe