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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear friends,

Warm greetings in the Christ child. Christmas can be a difficult time of year for people at the best of times, and in this most unusual of years, a covid Christmas brings challenges for all of us. A parishioner in one of our city parishes recently posted that a lot of people seem to be trying to ‘save Christmas,’ and by ‘saving Christmas,’ she notes, trying to evoke or create the expected and desired seasonal feelings, relationships, and surroundings. She adds, ‘Just want to point out that it’s Christmas that saves YOU, no matter how you feel, whom you're with, where you are, or what you have.’

That insightful facebook post helps frame a set of questions worth pondering. In what is for many the most difficult and lonely Christmas in living memory, how do we find our way to the joy and hope that the season brings? When our usual ways of gathering and celebrating are largely taken away or seriously diminished, how do we attend to what God is doing for us, so that we can receive this good news at the depths of our being and live this moment as well as possible? There are no universal answers, but here are a few thoughts.

What the deepest theology reflects upon, and the simplest carols proclaim, is this: God comes to us as and where we are. We tend to think of Christian life as a long walk towards God, but the real story that our faith relates is that on this road of human history, God comes to find and meet us - in many ways, but in the Incarnation, does so by embracing the human condition and this earthly life in the most tender and vulnerable way imaginable.

Last week someone sent me a quote from St Augustine’s Confessions (book 10, chapter 8), where he writes, “Human beings go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the seas, the broad tide of rivers, the vast compass of the oceans, the circular motions of the stars; and yet they pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” What was true 1,600 years ago is true today.

The Incarnation points us back to our most fundamental human experience, because it tells us that God meets us precisely there.

This past Summer, with the generous help of many people, I was able to have an old farmhouse renovated, and in October, was able to move out of Regina and onto the wide open spaces of Canadian prairie, though only 10 minutes from the city. If you love prairie walking, dramatic skies, and putting our lives and their problems in perspective by pondering the vastness of things, this is a great place to be.

I have a nephew who visited with a very good camera that was able to produce time lapse videos, which gave an extraordinary view of the sheltering sky at dawn, the winter winds of the day, the shifting landscape at dusk, and the moon rising at night. Breathtaking beauty is all around us, every day.

One thing that covid has done for some of us, and a covid Christmas in particular, is that it has slowed life down. I really like the time lapse videos; but even better, though requiring a little more patience, is the sunrise, moonrise, clouds in the sky, as they happen. Not sped up. But as God gives them to us each moment of each day.

Into the rhythms of our days and our lives, God enters, enters into time, and into the wondrous, amazing, at time appalling frustrating, beautiful experience of being alive. The creation account in Genesis tells us that God breathed life and wills us, whole and entire, to live this human life. And Jesus’ birth tells us more. At the Second Vatican Council, the Church put it this way: “by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every person. He worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart.”

We struggle in so many ways with being human. But as we ponder the angel Gabriel coming to Mary and telling her of God’s extraordinary plan, as we kneel before a creche and look at the Christ child wrapped in swaddling cloths, as we sing our most loved Christmas carols (even if only to ourselves), let us remember this: this human condition that we experience in all its complexity and brokenness is dearly loved by God. And we ourselves, in all the chaos and contradictions of our lives, are loved by a boundless love, a relentless and transforming love, a redeeming love. See it in the sheltering sky, and in the face of the baby Jesus, and in the face of each human being in our lives.

Friends, whatever discouragement you carry within you this Christmas, whatever darkness has beset the lives of your family or loved ones, take courage. God’s plan is bigger and more wondrous than all the obstacles we face today. The Word has taken flesh. Christ is born. Rejoice, and find rest for your souls there.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

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