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A birth that invites contemplation of all

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A figurine of the baby Jesus is pictured as Pope Francis celebrates Christmas Eve Mass. Photo: CNS, Vatican Media

The question at the heart of Christmas two thousand years after the birth of Christ in a small town in a far-flung corner of the world is comparatively simple to formulate: how is this event actually of importance or relevance to any of us, to myself, here and now? After all, how Christmas is marked in Australia, and why, is now largely unmoored from the actual event that it really commemorates. For many – perhaps most – Australians Christmas is a public holiday, a long weekend, a shopping season and not much more.

For the time being, the associated formal celebrations and commemorations of the birth of this child are still permitted and tolerated. Yet how much longer this may be so is increasingly uncertain, given that what is happening in Australia is following – and in some cases leading – the same general trends elsewhere. Many affluent societies around the globe have not only substantially rejected this child but are now rapidly moving to make belief in the message he will proclaim as a man and the principles to which it gives expression effectively illegal.

Across Australia, agencies operated by Christian churches – including healthcare, social welfare and education systems – now face the reality that they increasingly face laws requiring them to renounce key aspects of their faith in this child, his teachings and the core foundational principles drawn from these, almost always in the most fundamental area of moral choices about human life.

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Catholic hospitals, for example are now confronted with a significant specific question: to what degree will they be forced by state and territory laws to become complicit in the ultimate moral transgression of killing their patients or collaborating with this act? Catholic schools, likewise, appear likely to be soon mandated by law to facilitate and assist the transition of children towards living in a new gender – despite ethical objections, the irreversible consequences and growing evidence of lifelong regret. How the contest between missions born of faith in the child Jesus and the commandments He would one day teach and the programs imposed by official state diktat will conclude is yet to be seen – but the signs are not exactly auspicious.

In a nation subject to spectacular bushfires and torrential floods where the seemingly important issues of daily life for most are unaffordable housing and interest rates, the cost of energy, tectonic financial pressures on families and childcare provision, stagnating economies and a growing global uncertainty including current and possible war, Australians who take the time to consider the actual relevance of Christmas to modern life have every right to expect Christians and the Church to give them credible answers.

There is no magic wand for Christians that will instantly enlighten the world around us other than the daily prayer and witness of those who choose to follow this child and believe in everything he taught. Yet one thing is clear: a socially conventional faith of merely turning up to Mass for 40 or so minutes each weekend is insufficient to answer the serious questions the world demands of us. Only a faith of radical repentance and conversion can transform our suburban mediocrity into spiritual fire upon the face of the earth.

At Christmas, the ultimate programmer abandons his laboratory to become his own code and enter into the malfunctioning program that had corrupted itself. He does this freely to redeem His original intention in creating it, to rescue it, so to speak, from the inside. God becomes part of his own creation rather than remaining, as it had seemed to that point, external to it. The maker of the infinite reaches of the universe, the wheeling galaxies, the creator of all life, of fire, frost and snow, of perfect still mornings and fire-gold sunsets, of rushing mountain torrents and darkness upon the ocean, of white blanketed alpine meadows and the gently swaying drab olive eucalypts of the bush on a stifling hot summer day, of the endless red desert at the heart of a nation … this God becomes one of us.
In so doing, He also proves beyond any possibility of doubt His love for us and that He knows what it is that we suffer and what we truly yearn for. And he does so in order to speak personally and directly with us in language we can understand.

So look at the Christmas crib, a manger for feeding animals, as the syrupy music of the season plays in the background. But, more than that, regard it in contemplation and fall silent before it, allowing its meaning and stupendous significance, this child’s majesty, to enter into our hearts and our very being. As we do so, our lives – life, true life, real life, a life of eternal fulfilment of who we really are – all this finally becomes possible if we only accept Him.

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