It’s amazing how quickly time flies by. Probably because life in today’s world has become so busy, so full of too many things to do, and not nearly enough time to do them all. Here we are, already at the beginning of the last week of Advent. For those of us who still have so much to do in preparation for Christmas, it’s very fortunate that this year, with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday, we’ve had three full weeks already, and now another full week before we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
To use a sporting analogy, it’s very easy to take our eye off the ball, to let our attention wander to other things, to other attractions and distractions. And this is as true of Advent as it is of so many other times, moments, and events in our lives. It’s tempting to give in to the commercial side of Christmas – the shopping, the cards, the presents, the food, the tinsel and all the glitter. But remember, not everything that glitters is gold. Not everything that glitters lasts for ever. In a few weeks’ time the tree and all the other Christmas decorations will come down. Our homes, not to mention our shops and high streets will look very empty, very drab, lifeless, and colourless again. The ”things” of Christmas will be put aside, and maybe even forgotten. But the Christ child who is meant to be at the centre of our Christmas celebrations will still be there. He is Emmanuel – a name which means “God-is-with-us” – and He will still be with us. He will still be there for us.
During this last week of Advent, we still have time to focus on Jesus, and on the fact that it’s His birthday that we’ll be celebrating in a few days’ time. We’ll be celebrating what Saint John tells us so simply but powerfully in his gospel, that “God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son into the world to save us.” Isn’t that what Christmas is – a celebration of God’s amazing and undying love for His people? And isn’t Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, the greatest gift we’ve ever received? A gift that stays with us always.
You might find time – a window out of your busy schedule and Christmas preparations – to attend a Carol Service, a school or parish Nativity play, a moment to listen to some Christmas carols, maybe even while you’re driving along in the car or standing at the sink doing the dishes, or whenever and wherever – to help you to focus on what Christmas is really all about, and to share that piece of Good News, the wonderful news of God’s overwhelming love for us, with your family, friends and neighbours.
There’s a lovely piece called “Mary’s dream” where Mary is telling Joseph about her imagining a group of people gathering to celebrate Christmas, the birthday of her Son, without any reference whatsoever to Jesus Himself. We might ask ourselves if that is a true reflection of how we will spend this coming weekend, and the days of Christmas. If it looks as if that could be the case, we still have these days of the last week of Advent to make sure it doesn’t happen this year, and that this Christmas will be a powerful celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the One who came into the world to save us.
Let’s celebrate the birth of the One whom we call the Prince of Peace by praying for and working for peace in our world, in our communities and in our families and workplaces. Jesus not only wants us, but needs us, to reach out in love to one another, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to shelter the homeless, and work for justice in our troubled and unjust world.
This Christmas may Christ be born again in us, and be seen in our love for one another.
Fr Pat O Hagan is Parish Priest of Bellaghy and Greenlough, Diocese of Derry.