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Bishops of Cork: celebrating Christmas without denying the reality of evil

By Katie Ascough - 20 December, 2019

This was the moment God changed the course of human history – Bishop Fintan Gavin and Bishop Paul Colton.

Like many bishops across Ireland, Bishops of Cork, Bishop Fintan Gavin and Bishop Paul Colton, have released a joint message for Christmas 2019. Their message focuses on the story of the Holy Family, particularly when they arrived at the inn in Bethlehem at which there was “no room”. Bishop Gavin and Bishop Colton invite us to celebrate Christ’s birth “without denying or trivialising the reality of evil in our world and the real pain in our lives”.

The message begins: “When we look around us in these days it is easy to know Christmas is approaching! The sights and sounds surround us all – lights, decorations, music and celebrations. But at the first Christmas there were only a few people who knew what was happening. They, too, struggled to make sense of it even as they rejoiced at the news. And some must have lived to regret that they didn’t know. ‘Sorry, I’m full up. I’ve no room left. If you’re stuck, try the stable around the back.’ What must the inn-keeper have thought years later when people came around to look for the place where Jesus was born? They reminded him of the night he turned away the travel-weary tradesman and his pregnant wife from the north. He was so busy seeing after his pre-booked guests that he missed the greatest privilege imaginable — that the Son of God could have been born in a room in his house.” 

Bishop Gavin and Bishop Colton then talk about how we, as Christians, celebrate the birth of Christ because “this was the moment God changed the course of human history”. They talk about how God chose to take on human nature, how He walked among us, as one of us and yet also as God, in our world which is filled with all the ups and downs of love, pain, joy, hurt, tears, laughter, the noise, the silence and the messiness of ordinary life. Through Jesus’ own life, the bishops continue, He showed us how to love, forget, to share and to listen. Jesus taught us that we are all equal and showed us how to best treat one another.

“Christmas is not about a magical event, a Cinderella story without midnight,” continues the Christmas message. “Rather its very centre speaks of humiliation, pain and forced fleeing. The Christmas story mirrors the struggles that are being experienced within our own world and within our own hearts. It is within our own personal tragedies and struggles — the death of loved ones, lost marriages, lost families, lost health, lost jobs, tiredness and frustration — that we meet Christ.

“Hence, in truth, we can celebrate at Christ’s birth without denying or trivialising the reality of evil in our world and the real pain in our lives. Christmas promises Emmanuel, God-is-with-us (Matt. 1:23). God’s presence in our lives redeems because knowing that God is with us is what empowers us to give up bitterness, to forgive and to move beyond cynicism towards hope. When God is with us then pain and happiness are not mutually exclusive and the agonies and riddles of life do not rule out deep meaning and deep joy.”

The bishops conclude their message by giving thanks at this time to be with family and friends for the ways we have encountered Christ in our lives during 2019. Their prayer is that this Christmas will be an opportunity for us to be even more deeply and keenly aware of the presence of Christ, active in our lives and in our world today, and that we find ways to reach Christ and, in reaching Him, extend His compassion, hope, love, joy and peace to others. 

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