Christmas message from Bishop Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath

22 Dec 2015

“Christmas shines the light of God’s mercy” – Bishop Smith

As I write these few words, I am conscious of one of the headlines I heard on the radio news this morning.  It told that a record number of people would pass through Dublin airport during these days.  Many of the tens of thousands of people who left our shores for other lands are coming home to be with their families for the celebration of Christmas.  Families reuniting are among the happier stories over these days.  It mirrors what Saint Luke tells us in the Gospel, that a census brought Joseph and Mary “home” to Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth.  Christmas and homecoming go hand in hand.

A reading from the prophet Isaiah is read at Mass on Christmas night.  It tells us that the Jewish people never lost their hope and expectation of a Saviour who would unite the family of God’s chosen people.  The Jewish people had long wandered far from home.  Sadly we have witnessed in this past year the tragedy of forced migration and all its consequent suffering.  Who would have thought that, despite all our claims of progress, we would see migrants flee again from the Middle East and North Africa, children washed up on the southern shores of Europe, carnage in the streets of Paris, as well as countless Christians murdered in their native lands because of their faith in Christ?  It’s with chilling reality that Pope Francis has spoken of a third world war taking place in  the ‘bits and pieces’ of human suffering and oppression.

This Christmas, I hope we can learn something from what the Scriptures tell us about the migration of the Jewish people.  At various times, the people lost their way.  Yet never once did God abandon His people or refuse them His mercy.  Through the prophets, God’s word was always spoken.  And never was God’s word more eloquent than on the night our Saviour – “the Word made flesh” – was born.

The birth of Jesus points to a hope that reaches beyond ourselves, reaches into the heart of God.  This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter.  It reminds us that every human life is touched by God.  Every human life, whatever one’s nationality or race or creed, is graced by God. God desires to pitch His tent among us.  We glimpse the merciful love of God most vividly as He lays on the manger, surrounded by those who heard the voice of God and believed.

Last Sunday I opened the Holy Door in the Cathedral as part of our celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Pope Francis invites us to open the door to the mercy of God and to become beacons of God’s mercy in the world around us.  Our response in faith to the suffering of humanity we have seen these past 12 months is to reach out to offer the gift of God’s mercy and compassion to others.  There is no other way.  Peace can only be born when we respect the God-given dignity of every human person.

Unless we shine the light of God’s mercy, even the crib is a darker place.  But when we pray and gaze upon the crib with eyes of faith, then we see what is truly at the heart of Christmas.  Here is God, in the form of a child, who never abandons His people.  He was born for us 2000 years ago and, what is more, He is born again in our lives each day when we open the door to His mercy.

I hope that the families who are reunited this Christmas time will enjoy the warmth and love they so desire.  And I pray that, in the year ahead, our faith will remind us that the darkness of human suffering need not go unchallenged.  God’s mercy at work in us has the power to shine a light of compassion and peace for all who suffer – but He needs us to put it into practice.

+Michael Smith

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