Travelling around our country at this present time, I am always moved to see Nativity scenes in our cities and towns, in our shops and in our homes. At the beginning of the Advent Season, along with other Church Leaders in Edinburgh and a great congregation in the open air in the middle of Princes Street, I assisted at the re-dedication of our city s Christmas crib. That Nativity scene stands at heart both of a great shopping centre and at the heart of our civic life and the national life of Scotland. I am delighted that so many similar Nativity Scenes are evident in public places throughout Scotland, as well as in innumerable churches and at the heart of so many family circles.
We might ask ourselves what would our society be like if it were indeed ˜re-Christianised .
First of all, I am sure that the key lies in seeing what is sacred to God s heart and should be to ours “ human life! Where it is threatened, we should find ways of expressing the hope that will protect us. Where it is nurtured, we should find ways to encourage and enhance it. In a re-Christianised Scotland we must do more to value and protect marriage and family life and especially our children. My mind goes back to a visit to Chiapas in Mexico at the beginning of the year 1999. I was travelling to Acteal for a commemorative Mass for the 45 people of the area who had been massacred at Christmas time in 1997. Of the 45 killed, 15 were children, 21 were women, and 9 were men. They were buried by their bishops on Christmas Day of that same year. The words of the bishops at the funeral ceremony were centred around the phrase that: Today the Child Jesus is put to death in this parish . Another nativity ¦ this time to death!
I describe an extreme situation “ or perhaps it is not so extreme? We can think of parallels in our own society. Family life is so often destroyed, not by shots from a gun, but by the immorality which at times surrounds us. And at times children are indeed born to die “ when life in the womb is at times extinguished; or the innocence of a child is destroyed by what they see and hear around them, even in the family circle.
Scenes such as I have described from abroad or those parallels at home, are hopefully far from the usual Christmas scenes and memories of the childhood of most of us.
Further I am sure that any attempts at re-Christianising our values must also prioritise the value of peace. We have seen the tragic escalation of conflict in Iraq this last year. There will be empty seats at tables in Scotland and in Iraq, the absences where a loved one should have been, other lives lost in conflict. I know that in my own Archdiocese, just across the River Forth from me, in Fife, there will be empty places at tables in the homes of 5 members of the Black Watch, who were recently killed in Iraq. Around the world that scene will be repeated this Christmas when there will be other empty seats at the table, the absences where a loved one should have been, other lives lost in conflict. Survivors too, scarred or disabled for life, remind us of how we should value peace.
Re-Christianising Scotland or re-Christianising any country is quite simply about Christ being born again “ and being born again in us and in the structures by which we order our society! Looking back to the events of some 2000 years ago, we are right to be disturbed when we recall the events of the first Christmas. Jesus Christ, the Son of God came on earth, born of a virgin in a stable at Bethlehem because there was no room at the inn.
God will not force us to be good. The babe in the crib has no power other than to invite us into this better world. God knows “ and I say that reverently “ God knows we need it. He is not just above us, he is with us ¦ in that child.
May God bless each and every one of you. May our celebrations at this Christmas time lead us into an understanding of the deeper meaning of the coming of God as man and help us to change our lives in every way in which they need changing, so that we do indeed become more Christ-like in our every thought, word and deed.
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