Very Rev. Francis Bradley, the Administrator of the Diocese of Derry, urges people to enjoy the company they’re in this Christmas.
In Advent, for four weeks, we wait and watch and listen for signs of hope and the sense that God is near. You have to live Advent on your tip-toes, eyes fixed on the horizon to the East, watching for the first glimmer of dawn. Listening also helps because, even in the depths of winter, birds can be heard to sing their song of hope, for birdsong always awakens the dawn itself. Their song is a tune of hope, for they know that the light and warmth of day are at hand, even before we humans can sense it.
Birds are Advent creatures. But we are Advent people for, long before the coming of Christianity to these shores, our ancestors had a real sense of the importance of light and hope, especially in the dead of winter.
Think of the ancient burial tomb at Brú-na-Boínne, the world heritage site better known as Newgrange, in County Meath. Dating from around three thousand two hundred years before Christ, this monument is one thousand years older than Stonehenge and five hundred years older than the great pyramids of Egypt.
Architecturally, it is splendid but its real genius lies in how accurately it was built. Deep within its structure is a nineteen metre long entrance passage which leads to a central burial chamber.
As dawn breaks, only on the days from December 19 to 23, a narrow beam of light penetrates the opening above the entrance, reaching the floor of the chamber, slowly stretching the length of that chamber, bringing warmth and light, and even life to its deathly and silent heart. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the entire room becomes gilded with light, its very stones beginning to glow and breath. This annual mysterious event lasts for just seventeen minutes, beginning around nine o’clock. Our so-called pagan ancestors knew the value of light, for it brought a sense of life, even to their dead.
They had the vision and faith, to say nothing of the ingenuity, to build the great structures which, even today, show us how deep their sense of God really was.
The recent news of the death of Madiba, the Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela, was marked with phrases like, ‘A great light has gone out in the world’. And so it did.
As we approach Christmas and the tender celebration of Christ’s birth as our brother, we know that, in him, the Greatest Light has dawned upon our world, a Light which will never ever go out. And neither it does.
Like the Lumiere celebrations which dazzled our eyes and delighted our minds, so the Christ of Christmas brightens our hearts with his love as he blesses our souls with his peace.
May the Light which shines brightly in our city, and the warmth which fills our welcoming hearts, encourage those coming home for Christmas to come to us earlier and stay with us longer.
For if the Christ of Christmas teaches us anything, surely, it is that God enjoys our company even more than we enjoy his. So we need to enjoy ourselves, too.
So keep an eye out for an approaching light and an ear open for the sound of familiar footsteps at the door. Whatever your age, let the child you are at heart stand on tip-toes, excited with hope and bouncing with joy.
Enjoy the company you are in this Christmas. And let no-one be alone.
Merry Christmas to you all.