It is always lovely to see people at Mass at Christmas who don’t often make it for the rest of the year, and I was wondering what it is about Christmas that makes it so special for them (or for you if you are one of them). Of course some come simply to be part of their family, for Christmas is a family occasion after all; and it is good that some people suspend their lack of belief at this season simply to show solidarity with their loved ones who do.
But I think the other thing that attracts people at Christmas is the simplicity of the story. What I mean by this is that in the stable at Bethlehem we are told that we can meet God in a tiny baby, and most of us have felt for ourselves, at one time or another, the thrill of a tiny new human being in the life of their family, and have marvelled at the miracle of new life.
But the reality of little babies is that although we can goo over them when they are tiny, they grow up; and it is the grown up Jesus who is much more difficult for many people to handle. Yes, he can teach us about kindness and generosity on the one hand, but he also attracts around himself a whole lot of people who, like us the leaders and members of the Church today, are far from perfect. And for many people that is where the problem starts; for they are happy to believe in God, but the Church? No thanks!
Yes the problem of the Church as an organisation run by people who are very far from holy, and are sometimes downright wicked, has always been a problem. Look at the 12 that Jesus chose. They are honest enough to tell the story against themselves, about how they were too blind to fully understand the message Jesus was bringing to the world; how he had to tell them off for sending children away ; how they argued amongst themselves about who was the most important ; and finally how one betrayed him, another denied him, and the rest simply ran away when he was arrested. Yet Jesus, knowing they would behave like this, still chose them to be the first leaders of the Church. And why? Because he had to. He had to choose 12 imperfect and sometimes very sinful men because there wasn’t and never could be anyone else.
I love some of the stand-up comedians with their clever witty remarks, especially the Newsquiz on the Radio when I am washing up, and I love them even when the Church is a target for their wit, as it often is. There is no point in pretending that we the Church are some perfect and holy organisation that it is impossible to criticise. As Pope Francis often points out – we, the Church, are merely sinners, and that’s it. And what we need to remember is that if we there hadn’t been a Church, an organisation made up of human beings, no-one would know about Jesus, and no-one would know about Christmas.
The Bible that we read our loud in Church with its message about Jesus only exists because ordinary human beings, the Church in those early years, albeit inspired by God, wrote about Jesus, or chose the writings about Jesus that should go into it. And it was the Church still imperfect that has passed it down from generation after generation until today.
So if you are one of the people who rarely comes to Mass because although you love God, and love Jesus, you cannot stand the Church, please think again. God chose to come to us despite all our failings. He was born in the midst of a little town who had no room for Mary and Joseph and stuck them in a stable. He is the Word made flesh, choosing to become one of us, despite the many times we mess up. We are called to believe in the Church that Jesus chose to create to pass on his message. We are called to be an active part of that Church however often some people in it drive us mad or say things we really don’t like. Let us be like the shepherds, not just watching the glory of the angels, but getting up and going to Bethlehem and giving ourselves to Jesus in love and service, for ever.
What can I give him? I can give him my heart.