Dear friends. There is a story told of a chicken and a pig who were taking a walk one day when they saw an appeal for food being made in their local village for people who were starving. ‘We have to do something to help’ said the pig. ‘I agree’ said the chicken. ‘I suggest that we give some food: I will give some eggs and maybe you will give some bacon’. The pig hesitated for a moment and then responded: ‘wait a minute – for you this would be a contribution but for me it would be a big sacrifice!’
On this Sunday before Christmas ends and as we prepare to get back to work and school this week, the readings at Mass today continue to invite us to reflect on the mystery of what Christmas is all about: the coming on earth of God himself in the form of his beloved Son, the Word made flesh who lives among us. As we think on what God has done for us by becoming one of us, it is important to remember that in giving us his Son, he not just made a contribution but made a sacrifice that was himself. In the case of God becoming human like us, the giver of the gift and the gift itself are one and the same.
What this means invites us to do is become less preoccupied with the things of God than God himself. I think we all fall into the trap of preferring the gifts of God before God himself. We can think at times that what we need most are the things that God can provide: like the chicken in the story who provided the eggs to those who needed them. Therefore we can look for the forgiveness of God before the God of forgiveness; we can look for the joy of God before the God of joy; we can look for the favours of God before the God of favours, etc. Instead, we must allow God to reveal himself to us at Christmas and realise the love with which he does so. As St John tells us in the Gospel: ‘from his fullness we have, all of us received, grace in return for grace’.
In the second reading St Paul teaches the Ephesians that when God blessed us in Christ, he did so with ‘all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ’: not some, not many but all the blessings of heaven. This amazing message is repeated in the Gospel story of the prodigal son when the Father tells the older son that ‘my child you are with me always and all I have is yours’: not some of what I have is yours but all I have is yours. Do we really believe this? Do we really believe that God has given us everything in his Son or do I still believe that God still holds back and makes a mere contribution to us instead of giving us his very self? If I still believe that God is a mere irregular contributor to my life then the message of Christmas this year will have made little impact. I will go back to school or work and normality this week as I was before. But if I dare to believe the good news that God is not just a contributor to my life but the most amazing source of self-sacrificing love then I will carry forward the spirit of Christmas into all aspects of my life. If I believe this then long after Christmas is over, the memory of God’s eternal love revealed in the crib will never be far from my mind and heart. I will become a Christmas Christian who carries Christ into every place, encounter and relationship that lies ahead of me. If I dare to take Him at his word then I come to see God as the God who does not want to limit himself by giving us his gifts only but by giving us himself. After all we do not worship his gifts but worship Him.
It was wonderful to see so many people in our Churches over Christmas the past few weeks and to see how Christmas still means so much to so many. But as we leave Christmas behind again, let the message of Christmas change and transform us as we move into the new year with hope: by allowing God to be God and who he has revealed himself to be - not a contributor of gifts from a distance but a God so generous and self-giving that he stops at nothing less than giving us his total self. As God has given himself so generously to us may we give ourselves generously to others in loving service each day. In the last words of the second reading may he ‘enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you’ in 2020.