Bishop Jarrett’s Christmas Message 2014

December 24, 2014 9:52 am
To the Clergy and People of the Diocese of Lismore, and to all who seek the truth in sincerity, peace, and love of God and neighbour:
“A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
Once again this Christmas we will crowd our churches for the Christ-Mass. The pews will be filled with our families, the young and old, the Sunday regulars, the ‘not oftens’ and ‘now-and-agains,’ and those who are making a comeback to the practice of the faith after a shorter or longer time away. The Light of Christmas is warm, big-hearted and welcoming. It is for everyone to enjoy, always in hope of good things.
The message that we hear in the Christ-Masses has a power of its own to attract, to break in on whatever troubles, hurts, or even overwhelms us.
We hear it in the first Mass at midnight: “the people that walked in darkness has seen a great light!” We sense it in the glory of the Lord shining in brilliance at the appearance of the angels to the shepherds. It echoes in the Dawn Mass, “A light will shine on us this day; the Lord is born for us!” And finally in the Mass of Christmas Morning it blazes forth in the great proclamation from the first verses of the Gospel of St John.
“A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
The light of Christmas this year shines out over a deeper than usual darkness. The blackness symbolised by the flag of the self-styled Islamic State stretches back over most of the year, a caricature of religion in the hatred and violence, the murder and rape that are its hallmark. On 16 December some of that distant darkness suddenly descended into Martin Place, a part of our state capital that symbolises in its openness all that we love about our progressive and peaceful Australian way of life, and the sacrifice and heroism with which we have defended it over a century past. Then even as our grief and sympathy poured out in the flowers and tributes in the heart of Sydney, the tragedy in Cairns confronted us with another horror of death in our far north.
The easiest and perhaps natural reaction to terrible happenings such as the Sydney siege is to put up the barriers and to become cynical and defensive. It’s all out there and it’s someone else’s fault. So we will feed on our prejudices, view with suspicion our neighbours who are different, and name and shame scapegoats.
But then there is the Christmas perspective. Christmas is not just about a nice story told in carols, all tinsel and good cheer. Those events we celebrate all happened in a world just like our own, of malice and hatred, rejection and squalor, of lies, trickery and deceit, indeed of the murder of innocent children. It was then a world that had lost its way and ‘sat in the shadow of death.’ It’s tempting today to think that with all our huge resources and technology, our talk of human rights and our desire to make the world a better place, that it is something we can change by our goodwill and joint human effort. Surely, if we really wanted to, we could get this mess sorted?
Despite a few periods of harmony, peace and progress, the lessons of human history overwhelming demonstrate one failure above all others. It is our inability to get out of our predicament by our own efforts. The lesson of Christmas, on the other hand, is that we need help from outside to save us from ourselves. That salvation has been freely given. It arrived in human form, no less, when God sent His only Son into the world, “so that whoever believes on Him might be saved.” You believe it or you don’t. It’s entirely reasonable or it’s utterly irrational. It’s true or it’s false, and there’s no middle ground.
Even with all that God did and still does to save and help us, it remains hard work, demanding our free and willing cooperation. God’s rescue mission that came fully into operation in Christ’s birth, death and resurrection reaches out to everyone everywhere. The Church He set up is His enduring agency continually at work in today’s world. Even in the Church it remains hard work, because the Church so often is injured by a minority of her members who allow their weaknesses to draw them back to the dark side.
But the really wonderful thing always about the Church is in the things of light and truth and goodness and beauty — the things of love — that constantly flood into this disordered world because of those millions of her members who not only sing with the angels but work on their side, helping to bring “peace on earth to those of good will.”
The good news this Christmas, for saint and sinner and everyone in between, is that the darkness cannot overcome and extinguish the light. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, and all who genuinely belong to Him in His Body the Church, witness to that consoling and abiding truth.
So the dark and dramatic things that have happened in the twelve days leading up to this year’s Christmas have to be scaled against the backdrop of the great power of the light in its promised victory over darkness. That’s more than enough to think about and be grateful for during the following Twelve Days of Christmas and beyond, into what we all pray will be a 2015 much kinder to us than the year now past.
“A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
May the peace of Christ our new-born Saviour, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, remain in your hearts and homes during this Holy Season.
+ Geoffrey Jarrett,
Bishop of Lismore